By Maj. Stephanie Wilson, 90th Munitions Squadron Commander
/ Published April 08, 2014
F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. --
Growing up, there was a bar next to the television. It was not a large bar, just one you might find in any family home in the 1980s and 1990s. We used to have one of the world globes you could open up and surprise - a mini-bar was inside! One too many military moves got rid of that novelty item and the bar moved into the entertainment center - right next to the television.
It was a classy affair. It had a door and a key right inside of it. The entire family knew it was there, my parents seemed to magically know when it should be restocked, and the bar had the best mirror in the house- if you needed to look at yourself before you left.
Alcohol was never hidden. I was taught to respect it just as I was taught to respect weapons, motor vehicles and my parents. I was shown responsible behavior when they had parties at the house and would stand at the door before people left, checking to be sure they were okay, taking keys when necessary and making ride arrangements for the friends they wanted to make sure they saw at work the next day.
I learned quickly at college not everyone was taught the same respect for alcohol. As a senior cadet, I had the displeasure of helping my detachment through the death of one of our freshman ROTC cadets, due to underage drinking and drunk driving. I will never forget the look on my commander's face as he spoke of how he was able to take over 100 security forces members to Iraq and bring all of them home, and he comes to a university and loses a 19-year old to alcohol. He kept repeating how he shook her parents hands a few weeks ago, reminding them she would be in good hands here, but her choices about alcohol stole what she could have been in the service. She would have been up for major this year if she had lived and stayed in the service. I think about that every year.
As I look at the statistics for our wing, across the state and across the country, I wonder when this respect for alcohol and its effects left our public conscious? According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, drunk driving deaths have increased 4.6 percent nationwide. Wyoming had 40 deaths listed in 2012 and almost 7, 200 arrests in a state made up of only 570,000 people. How many more were driving and just were not caught? These statistics do not go into injuries, loss of work, time away due to jail or other courses - such as car repair - that can come along with drunk driving, but we all should know that with drunk driving there is always a cost. One loss of life is too many.
It is amazing to me that Alcohol Awareness Month and the Month of the Military Child are both found in April. I am also amazed at how much children notice about the base and events occurring in and around the area. My two year old is learning to read numbers and count. Each time we leave the base, she can see the numbers on the DUI sign change. She tells me if the numbers have gone up or down and can sometimes pinpoint, faster than I can, when the wing has had a DUI incident. If we care so much about our military children, what have we just taught my military child? To children her age, numbers matter. Each of those numbers must later be explained by my husband or me, and the questions will not stop. Does anyone stop to think about what those numbers mean to the countless military children being driven off base? If the adults are unable to act responsibly with this, what else can I not trust them to do correctly?
The bar next to the TV was never an enticement for me to drink. It was a part of the household, just like the lamps, the VCR, the large computer in the corner and the recliner my dad loved but my mom hated. It was a symbol of trust that my parents had it out, and when I had friends over it was never anything I felt the need to share or hide.
I never thought alcohol could make me prettier, smarter, faster, funnier or anything more than I already was. I value not just my life, but my livelihood, my husband and my children more than putting them or anyone else's children at risk because I was taught a life lesson by having a bar next to the TV: personal choices can have profound effects.
So I make a plan. My husband and I switch off on who gets to have a drink at various events and I have seen a plethora of cars at the club on Saturday morning when folks found other means of transportation home. I love it. I like having parties at my own house or within walking distance, so if my husband wants his Baileys and I want a glass of wine, we can have it and walk home safely. To me, this shows how much I love my Air Force. I do my best as a commander to place the needs of the mission and my Airmen before my own, so why would I then get into a car and possibly harm them or someone they loved by drinking and driving?
I wonder if instead of just counting the days from our last DUI, we counted the lives saved via calling Safe Ride. Or we could have the club tell us how many alcoholic drinks they served, so at the end of the month we could show the number of people who drank and got home safely. Or we could count those cars in the parking lot early Saturday Morning and leave thank you notes for being responsible, reminding all of us that their personal choice was smart and saves lives. Units planning events should remember to not have just the youngest Airmen in our organizations, people on medication, or those who are pregnant and/or nursing as designated drivers. We must think about the message we are sending to those are coming behind us, and know designated drivers can be of all ages, career fields and backgrounds.
If we truly want to celebrate the month of the military child and all that our dependents do for us, we will not subject them to the fines, military paperwork, court documents, car repair or tragedy of loss that can come with driving while intoxicated. If we want to truly rid ourselves of an awareness month, why don't we start with alcohol awareness through a committed understanding of the impact of alcohol and a programmed response to have a plan - call Safe Ride, call a cab or call a sober and well-rested buddy to come and pick us up if we have been drinking more than two drinks. If we truly want to be aware of alcohol and its effects, we will no longer underestimate its impact on our judgment, which would free up so much of our time and money to give back to our communities and truly celebrate the month of the military child.