Commander’s perspective—responsibility

  • Published
  • 75th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander
I received an interesting statistic the other day from our Life Skills team. Hill Air Force Base had 54 members assessed as driving under the influence for 2006. This statistic brought back some unfortunate memories of other assignments and events I wish I could forget.

Some events leave an indelible mark, such as a suicide video teleconference. Another was listening to a young non-commissioned officer describe how a DUI had impacted him and his career. Both were somber events that I hope I never have to repeat.

As I recall the base-wide gathering with this young NCO, I was very impressed with the presentation given by the guest speaker. He obviously didn't want to be there, but he gave a very moving retrospective account of the impact a DUI can have on a life and career. He started with the ramifications the event had on his military career, to include an Article 15, a steep fine, and suspended bust on his stripe. He went on to say how hard it was to tell, over and over, to his fellow Airmen and friends why he wasn't working in a "high profile" job anymore. But the most moving and sad part was the impact the DUI had on his family and his personal life. He was obviously crushed by the humiliation he felt in having to tell his family why he had to spend time in jail, lose his driving privileges, and have a "gizmo" installed in his vehicle that he had to breathe into just to start and drive his car. Trust me, you could have heard a pin drop during the entire presentation. I was proud of this NCO for the integrity and pluck it took to make such an open and honest presentation.

The other event I alluded to in my introductory paragraph was the suicide video teleconferencing. Another life permanently affected by a drinking problem that eventually led to a suicide--a pretty desperate act facilitated by a depressive drug--alcohol.

While we keep relating these stories we see and hear about lives being affected. Why don't we seem to be making a difference? I think we need to drill a little deeper into the matter-to our Air Force core values which I will come back to after a little illustration.

Let me try to draw a comparison between drinking alcohol and something I like to do - bird hunt. Those who know me know that I am an avid sportsman and hunter. I love to bird hunt. I am in the process of teaching my 10-year-old son to carry and use a gun in the field. This is an awesome responsibility that I don't take lightly because a gun is an indiscriminate killer. It's only as good or bad as the person carrying the gun. It's a tool that demands proper use, training and respect. He's been in training for a number of years. He's gone to the field with me since he was knee high to a grasshopper. This past Christmas, I bought him his first shotgun, and we've been out to the trap and skeet range practicing since then. When we do eventually hunt together, he will carry the gun unloaded for a number of hunts so I can observe how he handles the gun in the field. He will graduate to carrying one shell in the chamber while I follow behind him in the field only after he has demonstrated the maturity, ability and skill to do so. Why? Because I want to really impress upon him the tremendous responsibility he is being afforded and impact he will have if he makes a mistake; someone could be permanently injured or killed.
Well, what does this have to do with our AF core values and drinking alcohol you may ask? We as Air Force members, supervisors and commanders bear the same kind of parental duties and mentoring of our charges when it comes to drinking alcohol. We need to be modeling, setting the example and demonstrating what it means to take care of our folks.

What's the point? Drinking, like hunting, demands being responsible and accountable. Both have the potential to kill, maim or change your life drastically. While I was stationed at Vance AFB, Okla., I remember a lieutenant who got a DUI after a graduation ceremony, an Article 15, a steep fine, and a blemish on his record before going to his primary weapon system training. The message I got from this young NCO that day many years ago, is that the Airman Against Drunk Driving program is designed to get you home no questions asked if you have been drinking and are impaired--a completely anonymous ride home for those who have been drinking. I think that is great. But what I don't hear much conversation about is drinking responsibly and being accountable.

As Air Force members, we are expected to have and live our core values--integrity, service before self, and excellence. There's a value that's a natural byproduct--responsibility. In my book, that means knowing when, where and how much to drink, and definitely not driving. It also means making sure our friends and coworkers are drinking responsibly and not letting them drive if you know they have been drinking.

The bottom line: be smart, act responsibly--it's an integral part of our Air Force Core Values. Take care of yourself and your buds--it's more than our job!