ST. MARYS, Ga. - Proposed legislation to allow service members under 21 to drink beer and wine at base restaurants and clubs has strong support among military leaders, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., said Friday.
But the military brass are hesitant to publicly express their opinion, said Kingston, who has introduced the bill that would lower the drinking age to 18 at domestic and foreign bases.
"Unofficially, they agree with us," Kingston said. "Officially, they are reluctant to speak out."
Kingston said military leaders are careful not to take a position on any issue that would differ from their local representatives in Congress. The bill, which has bipartisan support and opposition, should be determined by elected officials, military officials told Kingston.
"It's a civilian-controlled military," he said. "You have to respect the process."
Kingston said he met with leaders at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base on Friday while he was in Camden County, but they never discussed the proposal during a closed-door meeting.
Commanders of the armed services may have to share their opinions, however, before the legislation is approved or rejected. Kingston said he plans to hold public meetings to discuss the legislation.
"We would like to get an official opinion on the issue," he said.
Sheila McNeill, the Navy League's former national president, said she supports the proposal.
"If you are responsible enough to be willing to sacrifice your life for your country, you should be able to drink alcohol," she said. "They should not have to sneak around and do it."
An estimated 60 percent of sailors serving on nuclear submarines are between the ages of 18 and 22 and active-duty soldiers have a 90 percent chance they will be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan, Kingston said.
Sipping on a beer or two while watching a football game might be way for a young service member in a combat zone to relieve stress, he said.
He'd also consider allowing younger troops to drink beer with a low alcohol content as a compromise.
"I'd be fine with 3.2 beer," he said.
Most popular domestic beers are at least 4.6 percent alcohol.
As for potential problems from young drinkers, Kingston said the military has strict rules about drinking, having a designated driver and proper conduct while in public.
The legislation would prohibit the consumption of alcohol anywhere other than designated establishments on bases.
"When you have a uniform, you are held to a higher standard," he said.
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