DUI costs stripes, salary, priceless reputation

Airman 1st Class Jeremy Spengler
723rd Air Mobility Squadron

I am writing this, not as a supervisor telling one of his Airmen not to drink and drive, but as an Airman trying to help another Airman. On Feb. 22, I was all packed up ready to go to sunny Charleston, N.C., for a two-week TDY when a “friend” of mine called and asked if I wanted to go out and have a few drinks before I drove to the airport.

We went out and I decided since I was going to drive I wouldn’t drink “much” – mistake number one. I was out for five hours before I decided I needed to leave. At this point I only had five beers, so I told myself I was OK to drive – mistake number two. After I had dropped everybody off, I was on my way home when I saw the lights of the police van.

All the scenarios that I imagined never happened exactly like the real one. The police pulled me over and gave me a breathalyzer test. I was taken in to the station where I was met by a German doctor who took my blood. Then I had to sit there and wait for the military cops to arrive. A lot of things went through my mind as I waited.

Finally, the military cops arrived and took me to Vogelweh where I was given another breathalyzer and this time a field sobriety test. I was put in a little room where I waited again, this time for my first sergeant and supervisor. When the shirt arrived I knew that it was only the beginning of my pain.

During the next few days, I met people I hoped I would never have to meet as a result of this situation. Everybody from the wing commander, my supervisor and even the people I work with everyday had something to say to me. Believe me, most of it was not words of encouragement I was so used to hearing. I started to realize what it was I had really done. Not only did I put somebody else’s life in danger, but I put my own in danger. Not only did I fail my co-workers – the ones who trust me with their lives everyday – but I failed my family, my squadron and my commander. But over everything else, I failed myself. It was the worst emotional pain and that to me was punishment enough. But it was only beginning.

For the next couple of weeks, I was in and out of offices trying to explain what had really happened. Just as I started to climb out of my emotional hole and started getting over my misstep, I found out what my stupid mistake would really cost me.

After everything was said and done, I came out of my commander’s office with a shadow on my sleeve where my stripes used to be. I was now a four and a half year airman first class with 21 days extra duty, an Article 15 and an Unfavorable Information File. This may not seem like much of a punishment, but I had already tested for staff sergeant and was a month away from testing again. After reducing my rank to airman first class, I took a pay decrease of $300 per month. I was no longer authorized to live off base so I had to move into the dorms. I lost my Overseas Housing Allowance and Basic Allowance for Subsistence. My Cost of Living Allowance dropped in half. Also, with a suspended license, I couldn’t drive for a year and had to rely on my friends for rides.

Everything I was so used to having and worked so hard to get was taken away by one stupid mistake – one that I made. There are many options the Air Force offers to prevent DUIs, most of which don’t cost a dime. Instead, I chose the most expensive option – one I will be paying for years to come.