A sobering thought: The ‘I’ in DUI

Lt. Col. Matthew Flood
435th Munitions Squadron commander

***image1***You’ve all seen the AFN commercials that warn about the dangers of drunk driving. You’ve also probably heard numerous testimonials from servicemembers who drove their vehicles after drinking too much, only to meet some tragic end. You may have even taken the time to read an article such as this, that warns of the dangers of drunk driving. But, do these messages affect the behavior of the intended audience?

The Air Force has expended tremendous resources devising “user friendly” and “foolproof” plans to help Airmen make the right decision when it comes to drinking and driving. We have Combat Wingman, Armed Forces Against Drunk Driving and free non-alcoholic drinks for designated drivers, just to mention a few. Unfortunately, in spite of all the programs and services available, there is still a small percentage of people who will drink and drive. So, when it came time for me to develop a DUI briefing, I struggled with what I could possibly say to convince people not to become a statistic on the electronic marquee at the West gate.

I initially tried an appeal to an Airman’s conscience. I pointed out the increased burden being placed on his co-workers to pick up his slack while he attends the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program, legal office appointments and possibly Ramstein Area Motivational Program. Because the Airman will no longer have a driver’s license, he may not be able to do his primary job, requiring an increased work load on his peers. He won’t be able to get to work without assistance, so again co-workers will have to shoulder the burden. Finally, there is the loss of a goal day for the entire squadron. A day that should be spent with family and friends or just relaxing from the high operational tempo at Ramstein, will now be spent working.

I felt it would be patently obvious to everyone that a foolish and selfish decision that resulted in a DUI affects many more people than just the guilty party. Then it dawned on me – some of these DUI offenders aren’t altruistic. Maybe they aren’t concerned about inconveniencing others.

So I set out to re-attack the problem. My first sergeant came up with some figures on what a DUI actually costs a senior Airman.

The most common punishment for a DUI on Ramstein is an Article 15, loss of a stripe, some additional duty and possibly a monetary garnishment. As painful as that sounds, it is only the tip of the iceberg.

Because of the loss of rank, he will receive less base pay, less cost-of-living allowance and won’t get promoted to staff sergeant with his peers. During that promotion delay, the Airman will lose more than $10,000 in direct compensation. These costs don’t even take into account the incessant taxi fares required to get anywhere. When the Airman is able to drive again, he will find auto insurance costs on average, an additional $4,000 per year.

Worse yet, since he can never make up for lost time, the effects of reduced earnings will escalate with time and be felt for an entire career. For NCOs and officers the costs are even greater. And for those who don’t plan to make the Air Force a career, a DUI conviction will follow you into the civilian world. A DUI will make you an unattractive candidate for most jobs and outright ineligible for some. The monetary cost of a DUI for military personnel is sobering; or at least it should be.

From a purely selfish viewpoint, drinking and driving doesn’t make much sense.