Drinking and Driving, When I learned my lesson

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- As my deadline quickly approached for this editorial, I found myself at a loss. What words of wisdom on leadership or Air Force career lessons learned could I impart on my audience - leaving them going "Wow, I just had an epiphany!"?

I was staring at a blank Word document when I was notified about the base's fifth military driving under the influence offense for 2008 and I found myself thinking.....

It was summer 1983 and I was eighteen years young and looking forward to college in a couple of weeks. Saturday night at the local drive-in and my friends and I are going strong, drinking quite a few six-packs of beer. I know I'm drunk as I drive home, but I was 18 and thought that nothing was going to happen to me... and nothing did. I woke up the next morning with a pretty good hangover to find my loving father standing in the kitchen. He greets me with a smile and in a booming, louder-than-normal voice calls out, "Morning, hope you're hungry. I made you some breakfast." Sitting in front of me is a big plate of scrambled eggs, greasy bacon, and an ice cold Budweiser. Another big smile as he sees my face turn green and says "Eat up son; we have a long day ahead."

I'll spare you the details, you can probably figure out the rest.

After I cleaned up, Dad put his arm around my shoulders and said "Come along son, let me show you what I was working on the other night." We head out to the police station. You guessed it... he's a cop.

At the station, he passes me a folder which has about a dozen or so pictures of a single car accident where the driver was drunk and didn't survive. We didn't have digital cameras back then, but the pictures were clear enough for me to make another run to the bathroom.

Another grin from Dad and off we go, this time to the county sheriff. "Pictures don't do the scene justice son,' he said. "I want you to see the driver's car...take a good, hard look and think about what can happen the next time you get behind the wheel after you've been drinking." To this day, I will never forget the valuable lesson my father taught me that morning. I could just have easily been that guy.

I know someone is reading this and thinking "Cute story major, but that won't happen to me." For your sake and those whose lives you touch, I hope you're right. When this incident occurred, I wasn't in the military, but more than likely you are. From that angle and as a squadron commander, let me share with you what you can expect if you decide to "roll the dice."

For starters, if you get busted downtown, your DUI will set you back about $5,600 in fines, penalties, and increased insurance premiums. For a first-time offense, expect up to six months jail time, at least 50 hours community service, plus a six-month suspension of your driving privileges and mandatory attendance in a substance abuse education course.
You're also looking at a Letter of Reprimand and an Unfavorable Information File, and possible Control Roster action that could prevent you from testing, being promoted, getting an assignment, and more.

If you are busted on base, there will be no court costs, but expect an Article 15 along with forfeiture of pay and possibly loss of a stripe or two. For anyone that had a line number for promotion, that's probably gone too, along with a referral performance report, possible assignment cancellation, suspended security clearance and other job-impacting repercussions.

Let's take that on base DUI a little further for some hidden costs you might not know. Assume each person below is arrested on base after consuming a six-pack of beer.

· Senior Airman Jones - Article 15, reduced to airman first class. It takes two years to put senior airman back on for a total salary loss of $8,006. Cost per beer - $1,334.

· Tech. Sgt. Smith - Article 15, reduced to staff sergeant. It takes five years to put technical sergeant back on for a total salary loss of $35,358. Cost per beer - $5,893.

· Master Sgt. Thomas - Article 15, reduced to technical sergeant. Retires as a technical sergeant due to high-year tenure; loss of retirement pay over life/30 years is $191,184. Cost per beer -- $31,864.

I don't know about you but I can't think of any brand of beer I'd pay $1,300 for.
Did that grab your attention? Because I haven't even talked about the impact this DUI will have on your unit and co-workers. Who has to pick up the slack and do your job when you're behind bars, standing in front of the judge, or doing your community service time? Who picks up the tab when your security clearance has been suspended and you can't perform your primary job? Right again, your co-workers. Since they're busy covering your job, their job suffers, and as a result our mission at Tyndall Air Force Base suffers.

Getting behind the wheel after you've been drinking has a far greater impact than you probably imagined. Not only are you endangering your life and those on the road, you're impacting the lives of your family, friends, and co-workers, plus you're jeopardizing the ability of this wing to 'Guarantee Air Dominance'.

Five DUI's in three months is five too many. I learned my lesson 25 years ago, when will you learn yours?