Brian Beldyga, co-founder of Save-A-Life, uses a multi-dollar simulator to show a Fort Sill Soldier the effects alcohol can have on driving. The presentation is traveling to different military installations across the country.

Sober Fort Sill Soldiers drove a high-tech "drunk" vehicle and learned more about the dangers of drunk and drugged driving at Honeycutt Fitness Center Dec. 4 and 5.

The vehicle, part of the National Save-A-Life Tour brought to post in conjunction with the Army Family Covenant, came to post during the annual awareness campaign for National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month.

"We strive to educate Soldiers and provide them the tools they need to help them prevent drinking and driving incidents," said Robert Dodrill, Army Substance Abuse Program risk reduction coordinator. "We believe the Save-A-Life tour will remind Soldiers to consider the potential consequences of drinking alcohol before they go out and to have a plan in place for how to get home safely."

The event opened with graphic videos from emergency rooms and actual accident sites caused by drinking and driving. But the centerpiece was the multi-million dollar DUI driving simulator "parked" inside the fitness center. It included three large TV screens offering drivers a 185-degree view as they sat in a high-tech $158,000 bucket seat that provides the computer data on the size of each driver. A custom steering wheel, gear shift lever and well-appointed dashboard complete with radio rounded out the realistic effect. The simulator controls blood alcohol levels and changes driver reaction times including steering, braking and acceleration, from 1/1000th of a second to 1 second," said Brian Beldyga, co-founder of the tour and tour host.

He said the delay provokes drivers to respond in tendencies that an actual driver would while under the influence of alcohol. With nine years experience traveling the country and sharing the Save-A-Life message, Beldyga said even legal intoxication limits can be misleading.

"One drink alone affects drivers as it causes pupil dilation that in turn affects depth perception. It can also decrease peripheral vision by up to 10 percent."

Although sporting a beard and long hair, Beldyga established a rapport with the young Soldiers early on.

"As Soldiers, you all are experts at things I can't begin to do, and I respect you for that," he said. "However, I am an expert in talking to you about DUIs, and I expect you to respect me for that." He launched into his talk as references to "South Park" and other programs served to connect him to many of the young Soldiers. Throughout, he spoke in a hard-edged manner for a reason.

"I come at them loud and condescending, because I want them to remember this information and retain it longer."

He then asked for a Soldier to volunteer to become the first guinea pig in the simulator.

As Spc. Keith Pilch, a transportation specialist with C Company, 26th Target Acquisition Battery, descended the bleachers, Beldyga warned him the experience might not be pleasant.

"Are you ready superstar'" asked Beldyga as Pilch buckled his seatbelt. Beldyga instructed Pilch to begin driving, but the car failed to move, despite Pilch depressing the accelerator.

An acidic response from Beldyga reminded Pilch most cars ran better after the driver turned the key in the ignition.

His periodic "browbeating" of Pilch elicited laughter from the other Soldiers, many of whom would experience the same harsh treatment later.

Though humorous, Beldyga reminded all watching this was serious business. Pilch's time behind the wheel ended a short time later as his report card bore a red checkmark beside DUI. Beldyga eased off the verbal gas pedal as Pilch exited the simulator, "Be there for your friends buddy."

Spc. Gary Rainville took his turn in the simulator. His drive ended in the worst way, but then that's where the value of a simulator shows itself as he walked away better for the experience.

"I thought the simulator was very good in how the car responded as the blood-alcohol content increased," said Rainville, a truck driver with the 578th Forward Support Company.

Rainville buckled in for a drive around "Lawton" and did well at first, but as the BAC factor rose, his driving became increasingly erratic, leading to a skid off the road.

Rather than stay there and call it a day, Rainville pulled back onto the pavement only to overcorrect and T-bone an oncoming truck. He received his scorecard with a checkmark beside "Fatality."

"I think it would be a good idea for everyone here to see this presentation," said Rainville. "I understand even more why the post pushes so hard for Soldiers to stay sober."

Although Capt. Kristina Bowens, 258th Signal Company commander, did not drive the simulator, she said the videos were more than enough information to catch her attention. She applauded post leaders for bringing the Save-A-Life message to Fort Sill Soldiers. She said the information bolsters the safety briefings she's required to give each weekend to the 39 people she oversees.

Staff Sgt. Stanley Blanco, a platoon sergeant with the 696th Forward Support Company, leads 13 Soldiers himself and can speak from personnel experience on the devastating consequences of drunk drivers. Blanco's uncle was hit and killed by a drunk driver while walking alongside a road.

"Events such as this affect me because I was close to my uncle," he said. "But, it's important for everyone to hear this information because you never know what's out there."

Not all Soldiers needed the simulator to get the message.

PFCs Alexis Axtell and Heather Black, both meteorologists with C Company, 26th TAB, are also new mothers. They said Beldyga's comments about the effects of one drink along with a video of a baby severely injured in a DUI accident convinced them to change their ways. Both said they would no longer ride with someone who had been drinking, even if that person only had one drink. Post Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities that serve alcohol, such as the golf course and bowling alley, will call a taxi and pay the fare for post residents who've had too much to drink. They will also call a cab for those patrons who live off post; however, MWR will not pay the cab fare. For more information on the Save-A-Life tour, visit the Web site at www.savealifetour.net.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16