Drinking, driving proves costly mix

HURLBURT FIELD -- DUI is a three-letter acronym that stands for driving under the influence – including the influence of alcohol.

We all know it’s no longer socially acceptable, nor will the Air Force tolerate, drinking and driving. Then why do people still put themselves into a career-threatening, or worse, life-threatening situation?
I don’t have the magic answer to this puzzle, but I’ve seen the results of those who threw caution to the wind.

As a first sergeant, I’ve had to deal with this type of situation more times than I care to remember. I’ve seen the end results of the mixture of alcohol and driving from both sides – those who have driven under the influence and those impacted by someone who drank and drove.

Everything was going great for Airman 1st Class Richard “Q.” An air traffic controller by trade, he was within two weeks of promotion and six months from re-enlistment. He had a wife and a baby boy. Nothing could have made him happier than he was during the summer of 1991.

Like most couples, the “Qs” had their disagreements, but this night they had a fight. Airman “Q” stormed out of the house just to get away. He ended up at the shop’s local hang out and was witnessed “slamming” approximately 15 shots of liquor, a few beers and an assortment of other mixed drinks.

Everyone saw him get up to leave, keys in hand, but no one took the step forward to stop him.

Airman “Q” somehow got his car started and even made a few basic turns before losing control at 50 mph and hitting a tree. According to the trauma doctor, three things saved this young man’s life that night: “his seat belt, he being too drunk to tense up upon impact and the grace of God.”

The rescue team was able to get him out, but only after cutting the car apart. The staff at Coral Reef Hospital immediately realized that the extent of his injuries was beyond their capabilities, so he was airlifted to a trauma center in Miami.

I received a call at 2:15 a.m. the following day.

“Master Sgt. Pirolo, this is Sgt. “J” from the Homestead emergency room. I must inform you that one of your troops has been involved in a serious motor vehicle accident. Sir, Airman “Q” is assigned to your squadron, correct? Well sir, he has been transported to Miami’s Trauma Center in critical condition. From all indications, he’s not going to make it. You may want to get down there.”

I hung up in shock, not knowing what to do. Fortunately the information wasn’t completely accurate, but it could have been.

After contacting the commander and Airman “Q’s” supervisor, I went to Miami to see what, if anything, I could do for him and his family. Absolutely nothing could’ve prepared me to see Airman “Q” strapped down to the bed and the injuries he had sustained. Nothing could have prepared him for the life-long consequences he would face.

Here are just a few of his consequences: red-lined promotion to senior airman; Article 15 resulting in a suspended bust and a fine; establishment of an Unfavorable Information File for two years; denial of the Air Force Good Conduct Medal; entry into the Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation Treatment, now called Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program; ineligible for reenlistment; line of duty determination making him responsible for portion of medical bills; lost income and $16,000 reenlistment bonus; and six months of physical therapy.

Hopefully, you can learn from his situation and think twice before drinking and driving.