OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --
I am writing this in the hopes that I can reach someone before it’s too late. I have served this country for 15 years. I loved the Air Force and wearing this uniform. Unfortunately, I will soon never wear it again. A fact that hit me like a truck when I realized this new reality.
We often go through the monotony of our daily lives and forget that at one point, we were really proud to be an Airman. I forgot this when I was pulled over for speeding and subsequently arrested for Driving Under the Influence, for the second time in my career. I received a reduction in rank to staff sergeant, which triggered a High Year Tenure discharge. I am writing this to help people better understand some of the financial, familial, and social impacts of a DUI.
Perhaps this will make some readers think twice, but reality is some people don’t listen (me included). We all see the videos of how the military in general shows DUI’s; someone tripping over themselves, fumbling with keys, swerving all over the road staring out one eye. Often that’s not the case, most of the time one ‘feels fine,’ but I can tell you if you have to ask yourself if you’re fine to drive; you aren’t. There is a large disparity between tolerance and legal sobriety.
The night I got my DUI, I was by myself. I drove (mistake #1) to meet with some non-military friends and only planned to have a few drinks. I need to impress the fact that what comes next in no way excuses my actions, but it is merely to explain the thought process in an effort that someone might relate.
Fifteen minutes after being at the bar, I received the news that a former high-school friend of mine, who joined the Navy and was battling PTSD, had committed suicide. That started the shots (mistake #2) in his honor. That coupled with all the normal life stressors put me in a place where I was no longer thinking. When they say the first to go with drinking is judgment, they aren’t kidding.
After leaving the bar, I drove (mistake #3) to a nearby restaurant to eat some food and get some coffee to ‘sober up.’ The restaurant was just a few blocks from the bar I was at and my house was only a few blocks further than the restaurant. After eating and drinking coffee for roughly an hour and a half, I ‘figured’ I was fine to drive (MISTAKE #4) and was pulled over for speeding half a block later. By now most of you are thinking what you should be thinking -- that was dumb. You’d be right and this might not be for you. I’m talking to the people who are reading this and are thinking this might sound familiar to something they’ve done themselves and not been caught. It’s never a matter of if, but rather when you’ll get caught. When you get caught, you knew better, like I knew better. We know better because it is briefed all the time, at every function! You might even be thinking that the worst part is getting arrested, but that’s just the start of it.
I will soon start over and everything I had worked for is null and void. Even if I try to transfer branches or continue in a Reserve component, I’ll have to explain my actions. Financially, I am losing $719 a month just based on the reduction in rank until I separate from the Air Force. Bigger picture, if I would have retired as a technical sergeant and lived to be 78 I would have made $640,000 from my pension, not counting increases for cost of living or inflation. That $20 uber ride is not that expensive in hindsight. I could spend forever talking about the various financial aspects, but most of you can do the math. Once you finally get through the financial impacts you are going to have to deal with yourself.
The impact to your family will be immeasurable. Not only am I losing my career and a steady paycheck in a matter of months, I’m also losing all the benefits that are associated with service in the Air Force. As the father of three children, Tricare has been a life saver. My oldest was born with a cleft lip and partially clefted gum line and sees a team of doctors at different stages of development to plan his care. After being through multiple surgeries with him and seeing the bills, one thing’s for sure; any doctor that practices in a specialty that ends in –ologist, or –ialist is going to be expensive. Now I’m left to figure out how to afford his surgeries going forward and hoping the next insurance provider will take on a client they know has multiple surgeries pending.
The hardest part is going to be actually telling your kids about what you’ve done. Having to stare your kids in the face and tell them all of the sacrifices they’ve made for your career were for nothing. All of the friends left behind for the promise of a better, more stable future, all of the tears shed from leaving a home they loved didn’t really matter. Then you can see their perception of you change. The man they viewed as their hero and one who can do no wrong has fallen. My career was something they were proud of as well. To be honest, as I write this, I still haven’t told my kids. It’s something that has to happen, but I’m too afraid.
Finally, we have the social stigma associated with a DUI. Even if your work center has no idea what’s going on, they will notice that you’re missing a stripe. For those of you who aren’t keen about the Nebraska laws, you will have to get an ignition interlock permit (breathalyzer) installed in your vehicle for a minimum of six months in order to be able to drive anywhere. Imagine going to get gas after work in uniform and someone thanks you for your service, then they see you blow in a machine to start your car because you can’t be trusted to do the right thing. Imagine going to pick up your kids from school or sporting events and waiting for the right moment to start your car so you’re spared the embarrassment of your kid’s friends or parents seeing you use this device. Imagine sitting at a red light and the device randomly goes off while the person in the vehicle next to you is laughing. I can tell you first hand, no amount of mental toughness will prepare you. In addition, even though my offense happened off base, I still incurred a 1-year base driving restriction. I have to park my car at the gate and wait for a co-worker to come pick me up.
Humiliation really is part of the deal. There won’t be a day that goes by for a while that I won’t deal with some form of humiliation. Whether it’s being too embarrassed to start my car, or seeing another coworker who just realized I’m a staff sergeant now, or looking into my child’s eyes. To those that knew me, I am truly sorry. I hope by reading this you’ve gained some insight of the dire consequences of my choices. If you can recognize some of the behaviors in my choices in your own life, I hope you are able to make a change before it’s too late. If you see some of the similarities in the behaviors your friends are exhibiting, don’t be afraid to step in. After all, I went from being a Below the Zone winner, a distinguished graduate at Airman Leadership School and NCO Academy in addition to being a multi-award winner to losing my career. Ultimately though, I’m actually pretty lucky. I didn’t kill anyone or myself.