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AADD provides smooth rides after long nights

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Imagine settling down in your favorite chair and turning on your favorite TV show with a steaming bag of popcorn. A fluffy blanket pulled tight over your toes compliments your most comfortable pajamas. 

As the show races through its convoluted plot with another shocking twist, you hear an out-of-place musical cue: your cell phone ringing "Funky Town." 

There's a slight pause as you answer the phone. "This is the Offutt AADD dispatcher. Are you free?" With a reluctant sigh, you glance at the television screen. There, the villain's smoking gun fades into a car commercial. 

Similar scenarios happen often for volunteers with Offutt's Airmen Against Drunk Driving. Offutt AADD offers a unique service to all military members in the Omaha area: a free, safe ride home after a night of drinking. 

"Airmen Against Drunk Driving serves one purpose here at Offutt: to save lives," said Senior Airman Camber Valdes, Offutt AADD president and a contract administrator with the 55th Contracting Squadron. "That's all we do, and we do it well." 

"Airmen Against Drunk Driving is not against those who choose to consume alcohol," Airman Valdes continued. "We are not that group of people who turn our nose up and judge. We've all been there; it's always someone's birthday, and there is always someone who was just promoted. It's what happens afterward that we are concerned about. We are here to prevent drinking and driving and promote responsibility." 

AADD hours run from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. Fridays, Saturdays and holidays. 

When a military member in need calls, a volunteer dispatcher answers AADD's cell phone, which is paid for by Offutt's Top Three organization. The dispatcher copies down the caller's information, including where the caller is, how many people need a ride, a contact number and what the caller looks like. The description is important to an AADD driver, particularly when the pickup point is a crowded parking lot. 

"Occasionally I have a hard time finding the caller, but we keep their cell phone number just in case that happens," said Senior Airman Evan Cater, a patient administration technician with the 55th Medical Support Squadron and a frequent AADD volunteer. "I have never not found somebody."
Airman Cater is one of several people who puts at least one night aside every week to ensure Offutt personnel have a designated driver. 

"There are all kinds of people who volunteer," said Airman Cater. "The volunteers range from the newest Airman who just wants to be a good Wingman to the concerned non-commissioned officer who has seen the devastating effects driving under the influence can have on lives and careers." 

The opportunities to work for AADD are flexible. Drivers volunteer for individual days, but can respond to calls via their cell phones from anywhere. This means drivers can make plans and go out, as long as they pick up the dispatcher's call. 

"As long as my plans don't involve drinking, I typically have plenty of time to do what I want with my evening," said Airman Cater. "Most calls don't come in until 1 or 1:30 a.m. because that's when the bars close." 

"The people who call are just as diverse," Airman Cater continued. "Some people have a designated driver who for whatever reason doesn't show up. Others realize they may have had just one too many drinks to be able to drive. The common denominator is they know they have a safe alternative to drinking and driving, and they wisely choose to utilize it." 

Airman Cater was recently recognized as one of two AADD volunteers of the quarter by the Top Three. In addition to being personally thanked in front of his section, he received a $25 gas card. 

"It was a little embarrassing," said Airman Cater. "I'm not particularly comfortable being called out in front of other people, but if it helps draw more people to volunteer, then I'm all for it." 

Offutt AADD is well supported by other base organizations, but officers are looking to improve awareness and make sure people use it, said Airman 1st Class Matthew Thiele, the Offutt AADD scheduler. 

Advertisements for AADD run on the base marquees, tri-weekly electronic newsletter, Wingman's cards, AADD dog tags, commanders' calls and the First-Term Airman's Center briefings. 

"Recently, the first sergeant of the 55th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Chief Master Sgt. Jerry Hanes, implemented a rule making it mandatory that the ranks E-1 through E-4 have an AADD dog tag or card on them," said Airman Thiele. 

Meanwhile, AADD pushes to grow the organization overall. Airman Thiele said he feels they need more callers as well as new drivers.
"It has been a bit more difficult to find volunteers for a myriad of reasons," Airman Thiele said. "For most, it's the fact that AADD doesn't get a consistent amount of calls in order to support on-going and motivated volunteers." 

This drought of volunteers is most apparent in the lack of female drivers. Despite female leadership, the volunteer calendar always has open spots for female volunteers. 

"There is a possibility that finding female volunteers is a struggle because they fear going out on a drive alone," said Airman Valdes. "Our policy, however, is to send same sex drivers out to pick up the callers." 

Airman Thiele said he feels the emotional reward of helping people is worth the effort. 

"The satisfaction of getting someone home safe and facilitating the process for others is a great experience," Airman Thiele said.
"I think this is a great, high impact way to be a good Wingman to not only the Airmen we are driving home, but also to the civilian community," said Airman Cater. 

For more information on Offutt's Airmen Against Drunk Driving or to volunteer, visit www.offuttaadd.org