First, let me start off by saying if you missed the 56th Fighter Wing Annual Awards banquet, you may have missed the opportunity of your Air Force career to learn from one of our greatest leaders and spokesmen, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Robert Gaylor, the fifth Airman to serve with that distinction.
Chief Gaylor has an exceptional way of delivering his message. Not only does he deliver advice that you can apply to life and career, he also entertains while doing it. One of his key points was, “Don’t let an opportunity pass you by, even if it makes you uncomfortable.” One of those opportunities presented itself to me when my commander asked if I would write an article for the paper.
Ironically, my “topic” had put me and a few others in my commander’s office on a Sunday morning. I had to escort one of my Airmen to the squadron and group commander’s offices — and this was not a social call.
You see, this “good” Airman had a blood alcohol content of more than double the Arizona legal limit only 32 hours prior — the Friday before our annual awards ceremony. To make matters worse, his BAC wasn’t discovered until after getting behind the wheel of his car and being pulled over by local police. At that moment my “good” Airman had just become a “lucky” Airman. Lucky he hadn’t committed vehicular manslaughter, lucky his wife wasn’t a widow, lucky his children still had a father, lucky … and the list goes on.
Did this Airman make a mistake? Some may say yes, a mistake, but I don’t believe so. Mistakes are made while balancing your checkbook, forgetting to pay a bill on time, missing a dental appointment. No, this Airman didn’t make a mistake. This Airman made a decision that turned into a crime. Whether that decision was clouded by alcohol use is irrelevant. It was his decision and it was wrong. Which brings me back to opportunity — I’m using this opportunity to possibly save an Airman from making the same decision.
I joined the Air Force just over 28 years ago — every briefing included “don’t drink and drive” or “call a cab, it’s much cheaper.” Those briefings evolved into have a designated driver, have a plan and be a good wingman. If the message is clear and concise and you make a “decision” to do it anyway, then I would argue that deterrence is not working.
What really hasn’t changed much over the years is the punishment. A DUI on base will get you an Article 15, busted in rank, loss of pay, etc. A DUI off base could involve a huge fine, loss of a driver’s license, busted in rank, a letter of reprimand and an unfavorable information file. Both cases will get you a referral enlisted performance report and a UIF, loss of base driving privileges and a huge increase in insurance premiums. Not to mention the emotional humiliation that comes with a decision like this.
I think punishment is two-fold — it can create deterrence and can offer course correction.
So what about deterrence — would “confinement and a bad conduct discharge” deter Airmen from drinking and driving? Maybe not, but is it time to find out?