Alaska Bases Limit Alcohol Sale Hours to Curb Drinking-Related Suicides

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 A recent report by the Air Force's Air Education and Training Command revealed leadership gaps in a high-pressure, high-tempo training environment, leading to unsafe practices that included alcohol consumption. (US Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)
A recent report by the Air Force's Air Education and Training Command revealed leadership gaps in a high-pressure, high-tempo training environment, leading to unsafe practices that included alcohol consumption. (US Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

U.S. military commanders in Alaska have ordered alcohol sales to cease after 10 p.m. on two bases in an effort to control drinking-related mental health issues such as suicide.

As of Friday, "alcohol may not be purchased between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. on the installation," according to a post Thursday on the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, or JBER, Facebook page.

"Several scientific studies reviewed by the National Institutes of Health have concluded that restricting the hours when alcohol may be sold is an effective strategy for reducing excessive alcohol consumption and related harms," according to the post.

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Fort Wainwright issued the same order, Air Force Maj. Michael Hertzog II, a JBER spokesman, told Military.com.

"The decision to limit the time alcohol is sold on the installation was made using information from science-based studies that show decreasing the hours of sale, by [two] or more hours for businesses that sell alcohol, may be an effective strategy for preventing alcohol-related harms (including suicide)," he said in a statement. "This decision was made after considerable debate, through counsel and with contributions from mission partners and leadership across JBER. Caring for people remains the number [one] priority of JBER leadership."

The Army has wrestled with morale issues unique to Alaska. A military behavioral health team conducted a review in 2019 that looked at 11 suicides at Wainwright between January 2014 and March 2019 but failed to pinpoint definitive reasons behind them.

During a January 2020 trip to Wainwright, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy acknowledged low morale among some soldiers based in Alaska and announced several improvements planned for housing and barracks to enhance "quality-of-life issues" at the base.

The base put in a new transportation system to deal with the challenges of shuttling soldiers around the installation, especially during the winter months. Gym hours were changed to remain open 24 hours a day to give troops more flexibility.

The post also installed wireless internet in dining facilities and brought in higher-quality food options for soldiers.

-- Oriana Pawlyk contributed to this story.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Related: Improvements Coming to Alaska Army Base as Troops Face Morale Challenges

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