News+Opinion » D. A. Smith

Lowering the drinking age for enlisted men and women

Buy You a Drink, Soldier?

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Last week, Rep. Grady Brown (D-Bishopville) signed on as a co-sponsor to H. 4274, which was originally filed by his Upstate colleague Rep. Fletcher Smith (D-Greenville).

Now, legislators add their names to resolutions all the time; after all, there are countless championship football teams to praise, retiring violin teachers to acknowledge, and some lonely country road to name after the drunken 17-year-old high school senior who crashed his car into a tree. But sometimes, the peoples' business gets slipped in amongst the tributes.

In the case of the aforementioned Messrs. Brown and Smith, however, sometimes the peoples' interests are not served.

Last June, Smith introduced a proposed change to South Carolina's alcoholic beverage laws that makes it illegal for those under 21 to possess or receive beer, wine, and distilled spirits. However, according to the bill, "The provisions of this section do not apply to a person under the age of 21 who is serving in a branch of the uniformed military services of the United States."

Smith told The State last Tuesday, "It doesn't make any sense to prohibit a young soldier, Marine, airman, or sailor from having a drink ... They've proven they're adults ... They have the maturity that the average 18-year-old wouldn't have."

The Bishopville representative further justified his bill to the AP, "I really don't think it should create a problem for the military. It might even enhance their morale."

That's right, soldier. Take that pain from watching your buddies get blown to bits and drown it in a little Budweiser.

The Pentagon has spent many years and many millions on alcohol awareness programs in the hope of reducing DUI incidents and fatalities for GI Joe and Josephine. Military installations have "zero tolerance" policies regarding underage drinking, but some exceptions do exist and are at the behest of the superior officers.

In 1985, South Carolina raised its drinking age to 21, following a nationwide public outcry over DUI fatalities and a public relations juggernaut waged by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The federales got all the states in line by threatening the forfeiture of highway monies. Fletcher acknowledges that his bill could jeopardize South Carolina's share of federal highway funds, which totaled $287 million last year.

If you weren't around the Palmetto State at the time, there was quite a show up in the Statehouse as legislators caviled on about federal intrusions on states' rights, but in the end they caved in to their spouses and preachers. And in the years that followed, a mountain of data has accumulated showing the wisdom of the new drinking age.

Smith, however, is resolute. "It's absurd that people serving in the military are trained to kill on the battlefield, but at the same time couldn't come back home and have a beer."

Brown, who served in the S.C. Air National Guard, told the AP, "If a man is old enough to defend his country and die for his country" then he's not too young for a cocktail.

Oh, I see. This ain't about drinking; this is about being "a man."

Smith and Brown's bill is currently stagnating in the House Judiciary Committee, as it should.

It isn't a particularly original idea either; legislators have submitted similar bills in Kentucky, Nebraska, and Vermont, but none are expected to get out of committee. Don't forget what got that kid memorialized on a country road in the first place.

I sense that Smith and Brown's justifications have less to do with offering the troops a small reward in return for sacrifices than it does with the emotional issues of aging armed forces groupies who slug back bourbon and thank their lucky stars that their kid is not in the world's biggest cat box getting his ass shot off.

Mature people make lousy decisions about alcohol all the time. I don't care what they do for a living.

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