Brig. Gen. Patrick Mordente, 86th Airlift Wing commander, has lifted a 17-month ban on alcohol in Ramstein Air Base, Germany, dormitories. (Senior Airman Chris Willis/Air Force)
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Seventeen months after his predecessor banned alcohol in Ramstein Air Base, Germany, dormitories, 86th Airlift Wing commander Brig. Gen. Patrick Mordente has changed course.
In a series of town-hall style meetings with airmen last week, Mordente announced he was lifting the prohibition.
Air Force instruction forbids only underage drinking in dorms, but commanders have the final say over base alcohol policies. Seventh Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, for example, recently put into place a new Korean Readiness Orientation that makes the purchase and consumption of alcohol within the first 30 days of arrival there off-limits.
At Ramstein in March 2013, then-commander Brig. Gen. Charles Hyde initiated the ban in the airmen’s living quarters following a series of alcohol-related incidents that included loud, late-night partying, the current commander said. About 1,280 airmen live in the dorms.
Hyde — whom Mordente describes as a long-time friend and colleague — acted in good faith, he said.
“My predecessor did not take this decision lightly. This decision wasn’t easy for him,” Mordente said. “A commander’s No. 1 concern is a safe, secure environment for our airmen to live, work and operate in. The dorms had gotten to a point where action needed to be taken.”
Airmen were still free to drink at any establishment on or off base that served alcohol, he noted. “This [ban] was just on their quarters.”
The policy had been in effect just a few months when he took the helm in June 2013, Mordente said. After about a year on the job, he decided it was time to give it another look.
“All commander decisions, this being one of them, come up for review,” he said.
Mordente charged command Chief Master Sgt. Frank Batten with finding out whether alcohol-related incidents and noise complaints at the dorms dropped off when the ban began.
“I got with all the helping agencies — first sergeants, command chiefs, senior leaders, security forces, victim advocates. What we found is there was not a clear definition. Incidents were more cyclical. That was the information I provided back to Gen. Mordente,” Batten said.
“The command team thought it was the right time, the situation was right, and that the data supported our decision [to lift the ban]. This was about trusting professional airmen to maintain an Air Force standard,” the general said.
“We expect a lot from our airmen,” Mordente said, from guarding the gate of a base with a weapon to caring for multimillion-dollar aircraft. It sends a mixed message to tell airmen you trust them to do their jobs but not to have beer or wine at the dorms.
“When you think about what our expectation is for them on the job, this is about trust. And that’s how we put it to our airmen. We the leadership team trust you to maintain the standard,” he said. “Airmen have never failed me. Individuals have. But airmen never have. We set the standard, hold them to that standard, and your airmen will rise to the occasion.”
Mordente reversed the policy just before back-to-back three-day weekends, which was a cause for concern for some. But, he said, “if I can’t trust my airmen to do the right thing, it doesn’t matter if it’s a two- or three-day weekend.”
Batten said most airmen he has interacted with have received the news positively, although he is sure some would prefer the ban to remain in place.
The chief visited the dorms this past weekend to see how things were going. “They were out enjoying themselves, and they were doing it responsibly,” he said. “They understand and are thankful their leadership trusts them to do the right thing.”
While the weekend passed without any major incidents, Mordente said, he is sure that won’t last indefinitely. But when a problem does arise, the airman or airmen responsible will be held accountable.
“We laid it out there for them,” the commander said. “This is your opportunity to show us what you got.”