Changing our Air Force’s Drinking Culture

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Dana C. McCown
  • Commander, 55th Maintenance Squadron
Did you know that drunken driving now accounts for 32% of all traffic fatalities? In our Air Force, drunk driving and its ramifications are directly tied to our mission readiness, so it's a critical time for us to change our drinking culture!

Nationally, one in three people will be involved in an alcohol-related crash in their lifetime. Every minute, one person is injured from an alcohol-related crash. This year, an estimated 11,773 people will die in drunken-driving crashes - one sister, brother, mom, or dad every 45 minutes. This is not a "statistic," these are human lives lost with countless other lives turned upside down.

Trust me; I know because in 2007 the state of Florida experienced 3,214 fatalities and my parents were two of them. They were killed by a three - time DUI offender with no driver's license and no car insurance.

At Offutt, we've experienced 94 DUIs the past 2.5 years...that's 94 Airmen (with a big "A" to include civilians) who most likely can't deploy or aren't fully mission capable to perform their primary duties. That means the rest of us have to work harder than we already do to bridge the gap.

The 55th Wing commander commissioned a "DUI Task Force" in an effort to start "changing the culture" on the acceptability of irresponsible drinking and drinking and driving. I know statistics can speak for themselves, but let me show you where we've morphed as a state and a nation the past several years.

For Nebraska:

· In 1997 there were 2,097 alcohol related crashes. In 2009 that number decreased by 17% to 1,746. But at Offutt, we're on pace for 32 DUIs for 2010, with nine of those in the last three months. This is despite Brig. Gen. Shanahan, 55th Wing commander, instituting a "20-12" goal- no more than 20 DUIs over 12 months. Also remember, his "commander's intent" is one DUI is too many!

· In 1996 there were 12,763 arrests and 6,295 convictions for drunken driving. In 2009, those numbers went up to 13,399 arrests and 11,520 convictions.

Nation - wide:

· The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration encourages states to enact "enhance" sanctions for drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of .15 grams per deciliter or greater.

The rationale for high-BAC sanctioning systems is that drivers with a BAC .15 or greater is at least 20 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than a sober driver. During an average weekend night, about one percent of drivers have BACs of .15 or greater and about two-thirds of fatally injured drunk drivers have BACs of .15 or greater.

Want to hear something scary? Over the past two and a half years, Offutt's average BAC is greater than .15...yes, our 94 DUI offenders, on average, were at least 20 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than a sober driver.

We all know a culture takes time to change ...but when a company, or in our case Offutt, morphs it shared attitudes, values, goals and practices and everyone realizes that when you drink and drive, everyone loses, then we can turn our negative trend into something positive!

For example, back in 1980 there were 22,000 drunken driving fatalities nation - wide and in 2009, our nation reduced those fatalities by almost half.

As General Shanahan has said, "drinking and driving and irresponsible drinking kills careers...if you're lucky. Rolling the dice when it comes to mission readiness is not how we prepare for our peacetime and wartime missions."

The bottom line is that we have taken a moral oath to protect and defend the citizens of this great nation, and our local community, and every time we get behind the wheel of a vehicle impaired we put those same citizens into harm's way and break the trust with those we've vowed to protect.