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Rick Gross, ASAP Prevention Coordinator, Carlisle Barracks
Intentional Decision Making and Boatyard Wars: They can go together

August at Carlisle Barracks: moving vans, peak humidity, and… BOATYARD WARS, that old tradition where the incoming class gets together, builds boats out of cardboard and duct tape, and does their best to hold a George-Washington-crossing-the-Delaware-River pose as they cross the Carlisle Barracks swimming pool.  It’s a great tradition, one that officially kicks off the new year for the incoming student class and provides a chance to bond and have fun while doing so.

It’s fairly well known that alcohol plays an informal role in this tradition, as it does in many Army traditions.  The Tiki Hut will have drink specials available during the event.  Summer drinks will be especially common and desirable given the hot weather.  My goal is to get you thinking about how to make alcohol one part of the festivities, and not the main part.

Most times, in situations like this we do not typically stop to think about how to conduct ourselves.  In fact, just the opposite: after PCS’s, trying to get families settled, and reuniting with friends and loved ones, this kind of event seems like the perfect opportunity to relax and let loose a bit.  While true, this also means it is the perfect storm for letting our guard down and making poor decisions.

There are two types of decisions we make every day: habitual decisions and intentional decisions.  Habitual decisions are the things we do regularly and they take very little mental energy.  Morning routines, for example, are just series of habitual decisions (can you imagine having to decide whether to brush your top teeth or bottom teeth first every morning?  Talk about taking a long time to get ready.)  Intentional decisions are the ones that take some effort, that we actually have to think about.  It is helpful to understand how these two types of decision making intersect. 

For example, when we PCS to a new location, this presents opportunities to change our routines.  Habits usually have certain cues, or triggers, associated with them.  It’s 6:00, time to go work out.  Football’s on, where are the chips and salsa?  You get the idea.  When we PCS, many of these cues go away or change, at least temporarily.  It provides us the opportunity to change things, to associate new behaviors with different cues.  But in order to do that, we need to use intentional decision making.  If we don’t, our old habitual decision making will simply attach itself to a new cue.  The power of inertia will make decisions for us. 

What does all this have to do with Boatyard Wars?  There are going to be many cues, or triggers, at the Boatyard Wars.  For some of you, these cues will be associated with alcohol consumption.  These cues include free time (“We have been so busy, it’s nice to be able to finally unwind with a drink”); drink specials (“Two for one?  I can’t afford not to get a second drink!”); and old friends (“Another round for the West Pointers!”)  If we don’t think through what these cues are for us, personally, then we are allowing the inertia of our old habitual behavior to make decisions for us.  That decreases our ability to choose and increases our risk for unwanted consequences.

You can also think of what I’m saying like this: the Army is a huge advocate for planning.  Composite risk management, Lean Six Sigma, MDMP: these are all tools the Army utilizes to encourage soldiers and civilians to manage risk and improve efficiency.  While it would be overkill to do a complete written plan for your participation in the Boatyard Wars, it is worth taking a few minutes to ask yourself: how do I imagine my night going?  What would the best night look like?  How could my night take a turn for the worse?  How much do I plan on drinking?  What are some possible outcomes if I drink more than I intend?

Thinking through these questions by definition gets you into an intentional decision making process.  Don’t let inertia be the deciding factor in how much you drink when you go to the Boatyard Wars.  Be thoughtful about it.

In short, the Boatyard Wars are a fun way to start the year for the incoming class, and a fun-filled tradition here at Carlisle Barracks.  I encourage you to have fun and let loose.  But before you do, think through what you want your decision making to look like, especially related to drinking.  Knowing your plan and sticking to it will allow you to fully immerse yourself in all the activities of the evening, and make alcohol use a part of the evening, not the entire evening.