Story and photo by Staff Sgt. Wallace Bonner
4th Infantry Division Public Affairs
“Alcohol and drug prevention briefs are tough; how do you make that topic interesting and keep everyone’s attention?”
Bernie McGrenahan’s answer to his own question is “entertainment,” which he brought to 734 members of the Fort Carson community through two, one-hour shows at the McMahon Auditorium, April 18, sponsored by the Army Substance Abuse Program.
“I figure that if I can get (the audience) laughing, if you’ll let me bring you some comedy and maybe entertain you, then maybe you’ll trust me and let me tell my story,” said McGrenahan.
“It’s all fact. It’s true, and it’s from the heart.”
The comedian’s comfortable stage presence, ability to connect and easy humor kept the audience in a constant chuckle for the entertainment portion, the first half of the show. McGrenahan’s seamless transition into the alcohol and drug abuse portion, coupled with his storytelling ability, made the alcohol abuse part of the show.
“It was amazing, it was a lot better than PowerPoint,” said Pvt. Zachary Grieger, Company D, 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
“I didn’t quit laughing the whole time, except for when (he was) talking about his brother.”
McGrenahan used both his own personal experience of alcohol abuse, from a teenager until he was 24; and his brother’s drinking, which led to his suicide, to reach Soldiers about the dangers of alcohol.
The comedian’s sharing of the intimate details of his life in regard to alcohol addiction was appreciated by the Soldiers.
“I liked that he put some real-life testimony with it,” said Staff Sgt. Walter Johnson, Company D, 1st Bn., 66th Armor Reg. “The personal testimony lets Soldiers know they can beat (alcohol). “Being able to laugh at the same time (as learning) has been a great benefit,” said Johnson. “This put a beautiful spin on a tough subject.”
McGrenahan went longer than scheduled, which he said was due to the powerful connection he had with the audience, and that he wanted to make sure the message really came across to the Soldiers.
“I know alcohol like a book, and I know about Soldiers,” McGrenahan said. “I know what it is to have a couple drinks and have a good time, but I also know what it is like to drink too much and have it affect my life, and every area of my life; my finances, my relationships and my job.
“I just want to help Soldiers identify that ‘yes,
I do have it under control,’ or possibly ‘I’ve been under stress and drinking too much, and this person helped me realize it. I’m going to go speak to my resources and get on track.’”
McGrenahan said the best part of doing the ASAP show is connecting with the audience, and the emails he receives from people that see his performances.
He shared one he had received after a show: “‘Hey man, I just left your show, and honestly, you have me thinking about myself. Your story hit me more than anyone else’s has, ever. I’ve used ASAP before, when I first came back from deployment. It helped me not go all-out stupid drunk, but I still continue to drink.’”
The sender also asked for advice on how he could control his drinking.
McGrenahan said when he receives an email that states, “‘You made me realize that maybe
I have a problem,’ or ‘You made me realize that
I don’t want to go down that path, you helped me open my eyes,’ that’s the payoff right there.”
Susanne Watts, ASAP prevention coordinator, was pleased with how McGrenahan was received.
“I think it went well,” said Watts. “I don’t think people minded that it went long; I didn’t see people doing the cell phone checks or checking their watches. I think they were engaged. We’ve tried scare tactics before; they don’t work so well.”
Watts said ASAP tries to bring in something different with each big campaign. The next one will be Summer Sense, which will focus on all the outside events that typically include the use of alcohol.