Busted – is your time worth it?

Col. Rod Zastrow
435th Air Base Wing vice commander

There’s an old saying that time is our most precious commodity – our time to personally develop, our time to spend with family and friends, our time to grow professionally and make something of our lives. So why, since March 1st of this year, have 20 Airmen, civilians and family members across the KMC voluntarily thrown away not only countless hours of personal time, but the hundreds of their hours spent on regretful reflection, and countless hours previously invested in their future, only to see all that time thrown out the door when they decided to drive after drinking alcohol?

Dumb decisions. No one is immune. Lately, I’ve seen too many otherwise successful Airmen in front of my desk early on a Monday morning, looking sharp in their service dress uniform, trying to explain what motivated them to make a poor choice the night before. In fact, they chose to be a public menace, and selfishly risked their and our very lives by driving a motor vehicle when drunk. There’s no common denominator – drunk driving is equal opportunity at its worst – everyone charged with DUI seemed to think that they weren’t going to get caught. Some thought just a few drinks would be OK as long as they stopped drinking for an hour before they drove. Others thought that if they slept a few hours after binge drinking that they’d be OK – and yet they still blew well over a 0.05 BrAC. Nearly every Airman had a plan, nearly every Airman had a “wingman” who either suggested an alternative to driving drunk or offered them a ride or a place to sleep.

Fateful decisions. But you know what, our “drunk drivers” were already doomed. They had already made the fateful decision to give away their and other people’s time by risking lives through their selfish decision to get home on their terms. They were already going to drive, despite proven anti-DUI advice, despite increased apprehension efforts by Polizei and our own Security Forces, and despite the certainty of humiliation, lost wages, and most importantly, lost time.

Cultural change. While I applaud the 99 percent of us out there who get the message, each and every Airman, civilian and family member has got to come to grips with the fact that they need to either completely abstain from alcohol if there’s any chance they will drive (best option), or at least limit themselves to F.E. Warren AFB’s successful program known as 0-1-3-(0): Zero DUIs, no more than one drink per hour, no more than three drinks a night, and I added the last “0” which is for zero driving if you’re out at 0130 in the morning and have had any alcohol.

Drunk drivers will get caught – eventually. The chain of command takes our recent wave of selfish and risky alcohol-influenced driving seriously – and are determined to stop it. I am glad to see random sobriety checks across our local villages and main streets. I am relieved to see Polizei recently shut down the A6 autobahn in the middle of a late Friday night – and apprehend 1 out of every 16 drivers on that autobahn for drunk or drugged driving. Yes, it’s that bad out there folks. And I foresee increased random checks on bases, and perhaps stepped up checks off base. Drunk drivers will be caught. But each of us has a duty to not risk our, our family’s or others’ lives. Period.
Drunk drivers will “do” time. When drunk drivers get caught, and they will, drunk drivers can expect to do more time than they ever imagined. Where and how will they do time? First, drunk drivers get to spend time with the Polizei or Security Forces – perhaps in a holding cell in jail. Then, drunk drivers inevitably spend time reflecting, if they can remember, on what happened – if they’re sober enough. Then, they spend time in my office, along with their command chain. Neither I nor anyone likes this time. Then, perhaps they spend more time (just the beginning of a lifetime’s worth) on more reflection – but too late to do any good for their past actions. Then, depending on the circumstances, drunk drivers are going to buy themselves a lot of time not doing personal errands, not working on the next promotion, and not spending as much time with their family or friends. They will spend time trying to find rides to work and around the base when their base driving privileges are revoked. They are likely going to be increasingly spending time performing extra duties to publicly help stop drunk driving. In our more appalling cases, they are likely to lose time as they prepare for their court-martial where they could be sentenced to days, months, or even years in jail. And if sentenced, they will sadly spend their precious time in a cell being a drain on society.

One misjudgment away from a fatality. We’re only one drunk driver and a bad decision away from a funeral. Does public service or jail time seem too harsh? Think about this – what if a recent drunk driver who couldn’t remember hitting a light pole had instead hit one of us, or one of our kids. The mental anguish of taking another’s life in a preventable mishap would only be one consequence. Historically, these cases warrant our harshest punishment, trial by general courts-martial.

We don’t have to live like this. We all deserve better. Be part of the solution, and, if you do drink alcohol, stop or moderate your drinking. Certainly, don’t even think about using your keys to open your car door, much less drive. Get home another way. Do take action and do everything legally to stop others from driving after they’ve had alcohol. Don’t let them steal our time, or our lives.