American troops in the Persian Gulf have surprised commanders by getting into a lot less trouble than they did back home. One reason is the absence of that ol' devil alcohol.

The Army Staff Judge Advocate's office says the rate of Article 15 cases is about a third lower than the Army-wide rate. These cases involve non-judicial punishment for offenses such as disrespect and failure to show up on time.The number of courts-martial, or judicial cases, is probably even lower.

"We were indeed surprised," said Col. Tonu Toomepuu, the Army staff judge advocate in Riyadh. "There are a lot of factors, but once again, the lack of alcohol is a big one."

Alcohol is forbidden under Saudi Arabia's strict Muslim laws, and the U.S. forces have been at pains to obey them.

The Article 15 cases are handled by individual units and Toomepuu did not have a total for all troops in Saudi Arabia.

From the beginning of the allied military buildup in the Persian Gulf in August through Feb. 6, 19 courts-martial were conducted.

The charges included disorderly conduct, malingering, mail theft, indecent assault, use of cocaine, willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer, larceny, failure to secure a weapon and absence without leave.

As of Thursday, 17 courts-martial were pending. As in the civil judicial system, however, not all of those cases will necessarily go to trial.

"Idle hands are the devil's playthings," said Toomepuu. "And here they are busy. There is not much time to sit around and get into trouble."