This case study takes us through the creative and thoughtful process of a multidisciplinary team after being tasked with drastically reducing alcohol-related incidents in a short amount of time. The goal the group established is nothing less than the result of imaginative thinking and leadership—they set out to quantify what “responsible drinking” actually was. Their goal wasn’t to tell people they couldn’t drink—frankly, they knew it would be unrealistic to do so. Instead, they set out to create a responsible drinking culture at the base.
Within a month of taking command of F. E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, Commander Hoapili dealt with multiple alcohol-related incidents that resulted in two deaths, multiple injuries, domestic violence and property damage. A dorm inspection revealed over a quarter of the underage Airmen had alcohol in their rooms.
Hard-line, punishment-based tactics failed. Addressing the issue with leadership from the top down failed. The largely 24-and-under crowd simply didn’t see options for fun outside of alcohol.
Frustrated and fed up, the commander pulled his public affairs/communication strategy, safety, medical, family support and services officers, as well as the senior enlisted advisor in a room and said, “We need to fix this issue with alcohol and you’re not leaving until you have a plan.”
The team had to solve the commander’s intent on the spot.
What the SWOT Revealed
A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis revealed great insight and allowed the team to establish the groundwork of a plan.
- Leadership was committed to solving the problem.
- Command policies existed to empower chain of command to take action to prevent alcohol-related incidences (ARIs).
- Alcohol-related programs were in place and available.
- Almost half the base population was single and under the age of 23.
- F.E. Warren is remotely located.
- Young enlisted said there was nothing to do in the area.
- Connection between base and local community was strong.
- Community celebrations, such as “Frontier Days.”
- Local area offered a wealth of outdoor activities.
- Significant distance between F. E. Warren and Denver.
- Underage service members were able to obtain alcohol in the local community.
- Potential for loss of life in the community due to military ARIs.
With the SWOT results in place, an outcome assessment was established.
- Command policies that already existed could offset underage service members' ability to easily obtain alcohol in the local community.
- The close connection between the base and the community could be leveraged to increase enforcement of alcohol sales laws on and off base.
- A number of activities already existed off base that Airmen can participate in, dispelling the belief of the younger enlisted force that there’s nothing to do in the area.
Additional Work Was Done to Define the Target Audience & Objective
Targeted Public: Single service members E1-4 ages 18-24.
Justification: The base population of F.E. Warren was largely comprised of single Airmen under age 25. As previously noted, 28% of underage Airmen had been found to have alcohol in their rooms. According to research, this age group is more likely to binge drink and binge drink frequently. The SWOT analysis indicated a belief that “there was nothing to do at the base.”
Objective: Increase awareness of the definition of responsible drinking and the consequences by 100% among single service members E1-4 age 18-24 within 3 months.
Command Messages Centered on Defining Responsible Drinking
- Responsible drinking means 0-0-1-3: zero underage drinkers, zero driving under the influence (DUI)s, one drink per hour, three drinks per night.
- ARIs can ruin lives—yours and those who share the road with you.
- ARIs can ruin careers. All Airmen involved in an ARI will, at a minimum, receive the maximum non-judicial punishment and may face court-martial.
Tactics for Getting the Message Out Were Varied & Personalized to the Target Audience
- A speech was drafted for the command to deliver at a major event.
- Bi-weekly stories and monthly photos in the base paper promoted the 0-0-1-3 policy.
- Poster-style PSAs were developed and printed to be displayed in common areas on base to include the exchange, the gym and the hospital.
- A blog was developed for Airmen to be able to actively engage in discussions.
- Stickers promoting the 0-0-1-3 rule were placed in popular restaurants and hangouts.
By all measures, the program was a success, and the three drink rule worked its way into everyday conversation: “I’m going to stop at the base convenience store and grab a three-pack for the night.” In the final three months of the year, ARIs had dropped by 74%. The base also reported 81% fewer cases of underage drinking and 45% fewer drunken driving arrests.
While this is an older approach to giving and handling commander's intent, in certain situations and under certain commands, commander's intent is still approached this way. Be ready to think on your feet and accomplish the mission put in front of you by your commander.
By using imagination, communication planning, SWOT analysis and team effort from a variety of base agencies, this team was able to solve their commander’s intent of bringing alcohol issues under control within a very tight time constraint.