Old enough to fight but not to drink? Congressman wants to lower on-base drinking age

A recent proposal by a Georgia lawmaker could make Beaufort-area Marines and sailors want to stay on base a little more.

U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., introduced a bill, HR 5958, on July 29 that would allow 18-year-old, active-duty servicemembers to purchase and consume beer and wine by the glass at on-base restaurants, enlisted clubs and other events.

Purchases of beer and wine at base exchanges and convenience stores still would be prohibited, according to the bill.

Kingston, whose congressional district includes Savannah, believes someone mature enough to fight for the country in a time of war is mature enough to have a beer, said his spokesman, Chris Crawford.

"If we're asking someone to risk their lives in defense of this country and they're responsible enough for that, we ought to have enough faith in them to have a beer," Crawford said. "By restricting it to on-post establishments and not allowing them to purchase alcohol intended to be consumed elsewhere, the bill would not impact local and state regulations. It also keeps the alcohol consumption from getting out of control as they would be in establishments with superior officers."

The bill was referred to the House Armed Services Committee. It is co-sponsored by Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss. Attempts to reach Pentagon officials for comment were unsuccessful.

The proposed legislation has drawn praise from groups such as Choose Responsibility, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization. The group was founded by John McCardell, the former president of Middlebury College in Vermont, to urge federal lawmakers to lower the drinking age.

"The military seems like an excellent place to start with something like this because it's a controlled environment," said Barrett Seaman, the organization's president. "We also would like to see some kind of educational component to this ... something akin to a driver's education course for drinking. You can't just lower the drinking age and expect people to change a culture of drinking that has been built over the last 25 years."

Not everyone agrees with the bill.

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., said lowering the drinking age for active-duty servicemembers could lead to alcohol abuse across the nation's armed services.

"I normally see eye-to-eye with Jack Kingston on just about everything, but I would oppose that particular piece of legislation," Wilson said.

Wilson, whose congressional district includes Beaufort County, is the ranking Republican member on the House Armed Services Committee.