DUIs can wreck lives

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- My blues are crisp. My low-quarters are highly shined. My hair is freshly cut and my face is closely shaven. I appear the consummate Airman.

My palms are sweating. I have a meeting with my commander.

I enter the room trying to be cool and confident, but uncontrollably, my face flushes. There are so many other scenarios where reporting to the commander would be a proud moment.

I stand at attention saluting my commander. As my reporting statement leaves my lips my mouth feels as if I have just swallowed a cup of sand. The words are slow and forced. My head is spinning as I look into his eyes. The usually calming blue hue of his kind eyes have turned into something different.

I see red flames and feel the utter anger and disgust he feels toward me wearing the same uniform as him. He feels that I have disrespected my country, my Air Force and my squadron. His voice is calm and confident. “What were you thinking?” Before I can speak, my mind is flooded with the memories of that night.

The night is cold and rain is falling all around me like little liquid spears. The fight with my girlfriend has my blood flowing and my mind racing. The alcohol in my system does nothing to help calm me or collect my thoughts.

There are 85 miles between where I am and where I need to be. I could call Airmen Against Drunk Driving or one of my co-workers and they will surely come to get me but I don’t. I don’t want to disrupt them. I’ll just see how I do.

I get in the car; the ignition is difficult to find in my drunken stupor but I am finally able to find it and turn the key. My music is blaring, and I feel quite drowsy.

I’ll just roll down the window. The cool air and rain hitting my face wakes me momentarily. I find my way out of the neighborhood and hit the freeway. The next hour and a half I go in and out of consciousness a few times, scaring myself.

I’m singing at the top of my lungs to stay awake; finally the alcohol and humming of the road take over.

Slam! My world is rocked by a loud crash, a plume of chalky air and my nose hurts. The
airbags have deployed and I am confused about what exactly has happened.

I instantly try to restart the car. I am only 15 minutes from my friend’s house and there is no way he will deny me sleeping there.

The car won’t start and I am in a ditch. I turn off my headlights and decide that I will just walk to my destination. The car is totaled. Both the front and back of the car are smashed into the cabin and miraculously I am uninjured.

No one will see the car and I’ll get a tow truck to pick it up in the morning. I stagger down the road upset and confused until a black car stops and asks me if I need help. He says, “Hop in, I’ll give you a ride.” I get in and as he turns the car around he asks me, “Are you OK?”

Then he asks if I was involved in the car wreck. He tells me he has both good and bad news for me. I ask; “What’s the good news?” not sure what exactly he means and he tells me that he picked me up. I inquire further. “What's the bad news?” He says he is an off-duty cop and he's taking me back to the scene.

My heart races and the only thing I can think of is how to get myself out of this. They do not understand what I have been through tonight.

Next thing I know we are back at the scene. I only made it 5 miles before I was picked up. The police are amazed to see me unscathed after seeing the car and tell me I’m lucky. As they are putting me in cuffs and reading me my rights, I am not thinking that I am lucky, I’m thinking I’m screwed; my career is over. In a way, all that was true.

Any trust I had developed with my coworkers over the past six months is gone. There are going to be repercussions from this for the rest of my career. Every base I go to will know, “This is the guy that got the DUI.” My Enlisted Performance Report will be lower than it could have been.

When new people enter the squadron they are notified quite quickly that I am a troublemaker and someone not to be associated with. No matter that I have changed.

I want to be that same troop I was when I joined, full of promise and honor, morals and virtue guiding my everyday decisions. I must now try twice as hard to get half the distance as my peers. In the end, “A man’s character is his fate.” -- Heraclitus.

So keep your path filled with character that expresses our core values -- “Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all you do” and you will lead a successful life of no