Morale: Getting High In The Combat Zone


October 2, 2007: Since the 1990s, the U.S. Army has forbidden troops access to alcoholic beverages while in a combat zone. This was greeted with the same dismay that accompanied the U.S. Navy banning booze on ships in 1914. Back then, it was Christian conservatives imposing their will (and voting strength) on the armed forces. This time around, it was the mass media, who loved to see troops, combat and booze mixed vigorously together. Splendid stories, as least as far as ratings, circulation and ad revenue goes, resulted.

Both soldiers and sailors responded to the ban by finding other ways to get high. The most obvious solution was the hidden still, where homemade hooch was produced in small quantities, and consumed in secret. Because of the random drug tests the military has been using for decades, illegal drugs are not an option. But certain industrial substances are. "Sniffing" and "huffing" have become popular off-duty activities. The sniffables are glues, petroleum products and the like. The huffables, are largely compressed gasses. The most common one is compressed air, for blowing dust out of equipment. Because there's so much dust in Iraq and Afghanistan, there's lots of those cans to be found. The "compressed air" isn't breathable air, but inert gasses that create oxygen deprivation when inhaled. This creates high, but it can also make you sick, or kill you.

There's also alcohol from local sources. In Iraq, the local Christians have long been permitted to brew and distill alcoholic beverages. While Islamic conservatives have attacked that in the past few years, there is still alcohol available from civilian sources. Same deal in Afghanistan, although you are more often dealing with other foreigners.

There are periodic crackdowns, especially when a victim shows up in a hospital. But the stuff keeps coming back, and always will, although on a much smaller scale than when booze was legal in the combat zone. Many troops just make do with XBox, weight training and legal drugs, like chocolate.


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