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June 18, 2003

Base SACO helps Marines kick the habit

Who should a Marine turn to when he feels he has a problem with alcohol he can't seem to control? He may want to visit the Base Substance Abuse Control Officer, who will evaluate him and set him on the path to recovery.


Story Date
6/18/2003 By
Cpl. Nicholas Tremblay,
Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany

Staff Sgt. Rene Uribe's job as the Base SACO is to act as a liaison between the command and the individual in a substance abuse program. Uribe monitors the individual's progress, ensuring he completes the necessary classes to either quit drinking or at least drastically cut back.

"Alcoholism is a disease," Uribe said. "When someone is diagnosed as an alcoholic, it is treated very seriously, and they need intense intervention."

When a Marine is referred to the SACO, the first thing Uribe does is screen the Marine by asking him a series of questions and has him fill out questionnaires that provide some insight about the Marines personality. By doing this, Uribe is able to decide whether the individual has a substance abuse problem and, if so, how serious the problem is. He then prescribes the proper substance abuse program for that person.

The three ways a Marine can be referred to the SACO is by self-referral, incident referral or command referral. Uribe encourages Marines to self-refer if they suspect they have a drinking problem. When a Marine refers himself to the SACO follows the prescribed recovery program, no adverse actions will be taken against them. Their chain of command is notified that the Marine is in a program, but the details and the reasons are not released.

An incident referral is when alcohol plays a role in a Marine violating laws or rules, such as if a Marine is caught driving while drunk. The Marine is ordered to complete a predetermined recovery program. If the Marine does not complete the necessary requirements to pass the program, the command may take other actions against the Marine.

A command referral is when someone in a Marine's chain of command tells the SACO that the individual may have a drinking problem and needs help. Even if a Marine goes to someone in his chain of command for help, that senior individual is required to report it to the SACO. The individual will be placed in a recovery program based on the seriousness of his alcohol addiction.

Along with classes, a Marine enrolled in a substance abuse program must also complete one-on-one or group therapy with the Substance Abuse Counselor, Master Sgt. Tobey Robertson. When a Marine first enters the program, it is Robertson's job to conduct an initial screening which will help him determine how serious the individual's problem is. Once the screening is complete, the counselor can determine which recovery program will best suit the individual's needs.

Robertson, who has been a counselor here for two years, conducts what is known as client-centered therapy, which focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of the client.

"No two clients have the same treatment plan," Robertson said. "My goal is to meet the individual's needs."

When Robertson counsels Marines he tries to create a comfortable environment and does not allow rank or titles to interfere.

"I have to get to know them before we can figure out what their problems are," Robertson said.

Robertson is on a first-name basis with all his clients, which helps conversation flow more freely. The biggest part of his job is to listen carefully to his clients so he can understand what they are going through and create a solution that will assist them in their recovery.

"The goal is to return people to responsible drinking or to abstinence," Robertson said. "If you are going to drink, you have to do it responsibly. If you are not, you need some help."

Robertson feels the best way to end a substance abuse problem is to stop it before the abuse actually becomes a problem.

"It's better to send Marines over here for a courtesy visit, thinking there may be a problem," Robertson said, "than to hurt them by letting them continue what they're doing until something major happens that negatively affects their careers."

The SACO also receives assistance from Brenda Ray, Prevention and Education coordinator. When needed, she instructs individuals during group sessions on various topics related to substance abuse.

However, Ray also instructs Marines and civilian employees on a variety of substance abuse topics such as drinking while driving and drug abuse.

"As long people drink and drive, it is important to educate them about the negative side effects," Ray said. "Also, drugs change on a regular basis, and we have to educate Marines and base employees on what is out there and what they have to look out for."

Work section leaders can contact Ray at 639-5276 to schedule classes.

Along with educating Marines, Uribe also administers monthly drug tests. Headquarters Marine Corps requires that at least 10 percent of the Marines on base be tested for monthly drug use. But more may be tested as directed by the base commanding officer. To determine who will be tested, Uribe uses a computerized Drug Testing Program that randomly picks Marines. He types in the percent that will be tested for the month and the computer randomly selects the date of the test. But Uribe doesn't know the test date until the day of the test.

"The Marine Corps uses urine analysis as a deterrent," Uribe said. "When we test Marines for drug use on a regular basis, we hope it helps them realize that if they decide to take drugs, there is a good chance they will get caught."

The Corps does not test Marines for drug use because they want to bust Marines, but because many drugs are harmful and can even cause death.

Marines can refer themselves or other Marines they are responsible for by calling Uribe at 639-5115.