PHILIPPINE SEA– As the sun sets over Guam, a neon sign illuminates a badly faded advertisement for an American beer and a cardboard cutout of a smiling hula dancer pressed against a dusty window. In the room beyond, groups of sunburnt Sailors sit around high tables laughing and drinking from icy bottles and glasses topped with colorful paper umbrellas.
After weeks at sea, the bar is a prime destination worldwide for Sailors looking to relax and enjoy their liberty. For some Sailors aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) the mission of their liberty is to see the world, not the world’s bars.
Alcohol has been linked to Sailor culture as much as shellbacks and anchors since the Navy’s foundation. In an effort to combat the negative effects of that stereotype, Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Brinton Holland, from Waco, Texas, developed the Safe Liberty Buddy Program (SLBP). The program provides a safe place where those choosing not to drink while on liberty can meet and find a liberty buddy who has like-minded goals.
“It’s really easy to feel like you’re the only one who doesn’t drink,” said Holland. “You could work next to someone for years and never know they weren’t a drinker.”
Holland joined the Navy with two years of sobriety following a DUI that made him realize his drinking was out of his control.
“When I started to limit my drinking is when [my alcoholism] became apparent,” said Holland. “I’d never really tried [to limit my drinking] before and I found I couldn’t do it. No matter what I did, I couldn’t limit my drinking. I had to get some help.” Surrounded by Sailors embracing their new-found freedom, Holland was often left with less than desireable liberty plans.
“The first time I needed a liberty buddy in “A” school, I went out with a couple of guys to go see a band at a bar,” said Holland. “They wound up drinking, getting way too drunk and fighting each other. I ended up having to break it up and missing the band I’d wanted to see because I had to get them back to the barracks. It put a bad taste in my mouth about liberty.”
Though the focus of the program is sobriety, SLBP stands apart from Navy sponsored alcohol programs in one major way; it’s not a treatment program. Participation in SLBP is not just for those who have struggled with alcohol. SLBP welcomes all Sailors, from social drinkers to alcoholics, who commit to sobriety for the day of the event.
“We’re just asking that you don’t drink for that specific event or day,” said Ship’s Serviceman 2nd Class Daryl Bragg, from Houston, vice president of SLBP. “We take them in all shapes, forms and fashions. We never tell somebody that they can’t join.”
Leading up to Stennis’ port call in Guam, the SLBP planning committee set up goals for the life of the program. The first goal was achieved when the program was up and running for Guam, which led to the development of a much larger goal: to expand the program’s visibility on the ship and throughout the Navy.
“I want to get the program as large as I can on the ship so that as many people as possible who don’t drink have the ability to have a liberty buddy who also doesn’t drink,” said Holland. “I’d like for this program to be at every sea command and every shore command in the Navy.”
Holland’s goals are closer to becoming a reality. Within the first week after the debut of SLBP in Guam, the program launched a page on the ship’s Sharepoint where Sailors can hold discussions and connect with prospective liberty buddies. SLBP is also looking forward to growing their organization through development of a central committee, forming bylaws and beginning program-wide participation in community relations events and MWR tours.
As Stennis’ next port draws near, SLBP will host mixers and send out emails to ensure that no Sailor who wants to enjoy liberty sober will have to go without a like-minded liberty buddy.
Providing a ready force supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, Stennis is operating as part of the Great Green Fleet on a regularly scheduled 7th Fleet deployment.
For more news on USS John C. Stennis visit www.stennis.navy.mil or www.facebook.com/stennis 74.