Preventing others from making the same mistake

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. (ACCNS) -- We've all heard them over and over again: briefing after briefing about driving under the influence. Personally, I don't drink so these briefings can sometimes seem redundant at best.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend an Airman professional development course here. I noticed the syllabus called for a DUI prevention briefing. I thought to myself, "Haven't I heard this before?" But I prepared myself to learn as much as I could.

I thought it was a bit odd there were three junior Airmen accompanying the chief master sergeants at the briefing. I figured they were probably Airman Against Drunk Driving representatives.

When Chief Master Sgt. Mark Brejcha, 91st Space Wing command chief master sergeant, introduced the Airmen and said they had all received DUIs, I was dumfounded. We've all heard about the humiliation that comes with receiving a DUI, yet here were three Airmen willing to tell their stories to help prevent others from making the same mistake.

Each story was different, but each had the same bottom line: they made a bad decision and it cost them dearly. They told of the extra duty, lost stripes, legal fees, penalties and lost driving privileges. A couple of them haven't driven a vehicle in more than a year. They walk wherever they need to go or try to get someone to drive them.

Respect - they all talked about it. They said it's the worst part about getting a DUI. The respect they worked so hard to get from their leadership and their peers is gone. They have a hard time getting people to trust them. Each day is another day on the road to redemption, but it's a long and difficult road.

They also talked about the agony of not knowing if they still had a job. One Airman was in the delayed enlistment program when he received his DUI. He spent nine months trying to convince his recruiter and commanders he could make the cut as an Airman. He barely made the cut, but lost the job he wanted. This was his life-long goal in his plan for the future ... and it almost fell through.

They all spoke of their triumphs before their falls from grace. Each of them was considered an "outstanding Airman" before getting a DUI, which is a testament to why they are still in the Air Force. In their own words, they almost "threw it all away." They count themselves blessed to still be in the world's greatest air and space power; blessed to have a second chance to make things right.

They all knew what they should have done. They all knew about AADD. They all knew about needing to have a plan. They just made a single bad decision, got caught, and it has cost them more than they care to remember.

Each told of how they knew driving under the influence could harm them and others. But they all got caught up in the moment and didn't stop to think.

Driving under the influence can cause a snowball of damage that affects numerous people over time. I never had the opportunity to meet a grandfather and two aunts. All three were killed in the same accident by a drunk driver. It has affected my entire family in one way or another through the years.

One question kept coming to my mind over and over while the Airmen were speaking: "Where were the wingmen?" The Air Force is a tight-knit family. Where was the friend who should have taken their keys or suggested they call a cab? I would rather have a friend be irritated at me the next day after taking their keys, than have to apologize for not intervening when I could have.

Somebody failed them. Yes, they made a bad decision. Yes, they are adults. However, we are all Airmen and we are all part of the same mission. We are taught the concept from day one at basic training: "We live and die as a team."

The impact of these stories was incredible, believe me. No one was slouched in their seat. No one was waiting for the briefing to "just end already." The Airmen and their stories brought it close to home and put a face on the horrible punishments we've heard of.

Supervisors, commanders and leadership: please don't stop briefing about driving under the influence. Please don't stop hammering on it. Airmen's lives and futures are at stake!