When the military judge told my defense counsel and me to stand for the announcement of my sentence, my heart stopped, and my stomach sank. I thought about my son, my brothers and my fellow Airmen. I hoped and prayed that my 18 years of service were not about to end. And I felt sadness and regret about what I had done and the impact it had on others. I waited, and those silent moments felt like hours.
“This court-martial sentences you to be reduced to the grade of E-3 and to be confined for 90 days,” the judge said in a booming voice. As he stood and left the courtroom, I felt humbled. I would spend the next three months behind bars, but I hoped that my military career would survive.
I am a better father and Airman because of my court-martial. Back in April, I did not understand how much alcohol had consumed my life. When I was in Las Vegas with my girlfriend, we got in a fight after a long day of drinking. Eventually, it became physical. I pushed her, hit her and put my hand over her face. I pled guilty at my court-martial because I knew what I did was wrong. In fact, I regret those things to this day. I should have never acted that way and should have never let alcohol affect me so much.
During my time in the Air Force, I have deployed to Honduras and Southwest Asia. I ran the hematology section of the medical laboratory at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., and managed the H1N1 swine flu testing program while deployed. I achieved the rank of technical sergeant. Here at Luke, I worked hard in the medical laboratory and tested for infectious agents. In fact, I may have drawn your blood at some point for testing. I learned everything I knew about serving in the Air Force from great commanders, chiefs, supervisors and fellow Airmen.
But I learned the true error of my ways during my time in confinement. If you did not know it already, we have a jail right here on Luke Air Force Base. It is over by Club Five Six inside the security forces building. It’s a lonely place. There are three cells with their own sink and toilet, one shower and a general population room. The first 72 hours were the hardest, because I was alone in a segregation cell with nothing else. During the days in segregation, I was required to sit on my bed — I was not permitted to lie down until it was nighttime. The rules were strictly enforced, so I was alone to consider what I had done.
After I got out of segregation, I spent 16 hours a day in the general population room, which is just a bit bigger than your average medical examination room. It has some old books and magazines, a small TV in the corner of the room, plastic seats and a metal table for writing and eating. I was monitored every second of every day, and there were no windows to the outside world. When you’re in jail, all you can do is think — think about what you could have done differently and how you want to change.
The reason I am writing this article is to inspire my fellow Airmen to change their ways before they get in as much trouble as I did. I learned a few lessons while in jail that I want to share with you.
First, put yourself and your family first. When I say “put yourself first,” I don’t mean you should ignore the needs of others or the needs of the Air Force. What I learned is the importance of caring for yourself and being happy with who you are. Today, I have learned to forgive those who have wronged me. I surround myself with people who love me. I’ve also been re-energized to focus on the things that matter – my son, my family, my career in the Air Force and my future. By putting yourself and your family first, you will see how achieving great things in life (and in the Air Force) will benefit you forever.
Second, realize that alcohol affects you and those you care about. I don’t blame alcohol for what I did — I made bad decisions and hurt those around me. But I realized how much alcohol can bring out the bad in me. I had deep-seeded anger that alcohol brought out in a way I didn’t know how to control. Now that I am happy with myself, I know to keep alcohol out of my life so that I can improve myself and care for my family.
Finally, count your blessings. Every day you’re on this earth and free to serve in the greatest Air Force the world has ever known, you are blessed. You may not know the degree of that blessing until it’s gone. Take the time today to appreciate your Air Force service and thank your friends, supervisors and mentors. You have an amazing opportunity to serve your country, and I feel honored to still be serving alongside each and every one of you.
Today, I no longer work in the lab. Instead, I have to earn back the trust of my command. I am working with facilities management at the hospital, spending every day trying to show how much I’ve learned and how much I want to continue to serve in the Air Force. I have some great lessons to share, and I want all my fellow Airmen to learn from my mistakes. So if you are ever at the clinic, feel free to find me and ask about my experiences. If you can learn from my mistakes, the 90 days I spent in jail will not only have been a punishment for me — they would be a lesson to everyone.
For more information about the legal process or other disciplinary issues, call Capt. Joshua Traeger or Staff Sgt. Nicole Moore at the Area Defense Counsel at (623) 856-6701.