Thursday, June 2, 2011

TOP STORY > >Cost of a DUI part 3: Career impact

By Staff Sgt. Nestor Cruz

19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

(Editor’s note: This is part three of a series on how DUIs impact Airmen and the mission.)

“I’m affecting myself, my finances, my career and my future in the Air Force.”

This is what Airmen like Airman Johnson (not her real name and rank) is realizing after being charged with driving under the influence.

Airman Johnson, a member of the 19th Mission Support Group, realized too late the importance of having a plan and making choices that affect an Airman’s career.

“Every night I’m thinking, ‘Why did I do it? Why didn’t I just stay there? Why didn’t I wait a few more hours?’” said Airman Johnson.

It was a time of pride and celebration for Airman Johnson as she attended a college graduation ceremony for a family member one Thursday evening. To celebrate, the family went out for dinner and Airman Jones had two small glasses of wine.

Three hours later, the celebration continued at her parents’ home where Airman Johnson consumed a few more drinks over the course of four hours. She drank water in between drinks, hoping to lessen the effects of the alcohol.

The water gambit didn’t work out for Airman Johnson when she was pulled over by local police for driving seven miles per hour over the speed limit. The police officer asked Airman Johnson to take a breathalyzer test and she blew .16. She was arrested a mere five-minute drive away from her home.

Airman Johnson was taken to the local police station where she filled out paperwork and was booked for DUI. She was later released the next morning at approximately 6 a.m. By 9 a.m., she was able to get her car from the impound. It was then she called her supervisor.

“I spent all day in my first sergeant’s office and my flight chief’s office … all my supervision … taking up all their time until late afternoon,” said Airman Johnson. The following week, Airman Johnson met with her squadron commander.

Airman Johnson has a pending demotion, unfavorable information file and a letter of reprimand. She was also placed on a control roster and fired from her special duty.

“It’s not over,” said Airman Johnson. “My lawyer says I’m facing probably a minimum of $1,400 in court fines and fees and a permanent criminal record in Arkansas.”

“I had a problem”

Airman Smith (not his real name and rank), an aircrew member with the 19th Operations Group, is facing similar troubles for a DUI incident that happened several months ago.

One Saturday afternoon, Airman Smith was at home, drinking and playing video games. He decided to go out later that evening, so he stopped drinking at approximately 4 p.m. He felt sober enough to drive about six hours later and went to a local club.

Airman Smith had a few drinks there before deciding to go home. He went to his car to charge his cell phone and started the engine.

“I felt fine,” recalled Airman Smith. “I told myself to pay real close attention to my senses and be extra cautious [driving home].”

Airman Smith’s senses were sharp enough for him to notice the flashing red and blue lights in his rear view mirror. The police officer informedhim that he had crossed double yellow lines. The young Airman didn’t recall crossing any lines and politely answered the police officer’s questions. As the questioning continued, the police officer told the Airman not to give him attitude.

“I was real calm and cooperative in my mind,” said Airman Smith. “[The police officer] asked why I was trying to make things worse. I was trying to be real nice. I did everything he asked, including taking a sobriety test.”

Airman Smith failed the sobriety test and was arrested about a block away from his home.

After spending a night in jail, Airman Smith called a co-worker who posted his bail. He then called his first sergeant who told the young Airman to “be prepared.”

Airman Smith spent the entire week in service dress, meeting with his first sergeant; flight chief; group chief; and squadron, group and wing commanders.

Airman Smith was placed on duty not including flying status for six months and is currently waiting for a waiver.

“I also have to sign an alcohol abstinence waiver if I want to stay in the Air Force and remain as an active-duty aircrew member,” said Airman Smith. The waiver states that the member will abstain from alcohol. It is placed in the member’s medical records.

“I’m also subject to random blood tests to make sure I haven’t been drinking,” he added.

In addition to the alcohol abstinence waiver, Airman Smith received an LOR, a referral enlisted performance report and was placed on a control roster. He lost base driving privileges for a year and was directed to attend a Mothers Against Drunk Driving seminar.

Airman Smith must also attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings twice a week for four years, and Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program seminars once a week also for four years.

“After going through AA and everything else, it may have been a sign that I needed to take a good hard look at how I’ve been drinking and partying,” said Airman Smith. “I had a problem and I don’t want to go back to where I was before [all this happened].”

Setting the conditions for success means supervisors and Airmen should focus attention on responsible alcohol use by highlighting programs in place, such as having a plan or calling 987-AADD (2233) or a supervisor when an Airman has had too much to drink.

Part 4 in this series will highlight the emotional impact on an Airman charged with DUI and will appear in next week’s Combat Airlifter.

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