An Army Court Marshall has raised concerns over the drinking culture of troops. The concerns were highlighted after the recent ‘Rape’ case against a senior army officer. Lieutenant Colonel Benedict Tomkins, of Defence, Equipment and Support, was cleared of the single count of rape against a subordinate in her room after a UN meeting in a hotel in Uganda. Although Lt Col Tomkins was found not guilty and acquitted of all charges the Army Judging officers highlighted the fact that alcohol had played a major part in this case and said that he had embarrassed the army with conduct unbecoming of a senior officer. Brigadier Paul Tennant, the president of the board, said: “Despite unanimously and overwhelmingly reaching a finding of not guilty, we have been similarly united in our corporate embarrassment by the conduct of the defendant. “We as commissioned officers feel strongly that Lt Col Tomkins’ behaviour, even by his own account, fell wholly and demonstrably short of what we would expect of an officer of his rank and experience. This failure goes well beyond the fact of his infidelity.”
Alcohol abuse has been linked to many recent issues within the Armed Forces. Including PTSD and the rising number of violent and sexual convictions. This is not only in our armed forces but also widespread in our veterans community. A 2013 study carried out by the King’s Centre for Military Health Research suggested the alcohol consumption of 65% of the 325 personnel sampled was categorised as “higher risk”. The study also suggested that those with more risky drinking habits were more likely to have mental health problems.
Prof Greenberg, who is also a former Surgeon Captain in the Royal Navy, said: “For many years the military have relied heavily on alcohol education, so for instance soldiers would have to have a brief every year that tells them drinking is bad for them.
“The problem is we know that alcohol education doesn’t really work at all, and the evidence from the civilian population is that it’s a terribly ineffective way of stopping people from drinking.”
The Commons Defence Select Committee recently wrote that the government’s strategy had not made any noticeable impact on the high levels of excessive drinking in the armed forces. The committee said: “We are not convinced that sufficient focus has been given to dealing with the problem at every level of the chain of command. “We also question whether the Ministry of Defence has examined whether excess alcohol consumption may, in some service personnel, be masking other mental health problems.” Critics argue that the problem is made worse with prices at less than £2 a pint in some military bars. Some personnel say the problem is more common among those who have been deployed to war zones in combat roles. Serving soldiers told the BBC that after going on an operational tour where alcohol is forbidden, they just want to come back and “get off their faces”. Prof Greenberg said the military could be encouraging excessive drinking by having customary practices that involve alcohol. “I think one of the first things that needs to be done is to investigate a little more about why it is that people drink heavily in the military,” he said. “If it is that the military culture encourages people who weren’t heavy drinkers before to start drinking heavily then really something needs to be done at a very early stage to encourage people to drink in moderate and socially acceptable ways.” In the case of Lt. Col Tomkins, the military judges heard how both parties drank a considerable amount of wine during dinner before the alleged offence took place.