Soldiers hear 'shock jocks' of drunken driving
Matt Kwant, a crew member with the National Save A Life Tour, assists SPC Chris Walker on the drinking and driving simulator Aug. 18 at Freedom Hall. The simulator works like a real car and has a 180-degree field of vision.

FORT BENNING, GA - The show's hosts are billed as the "shock jocks" of alcohol awareness and anti-drunken driving, according to the group's Web site at www.savealifetour.com.

The National Save A Life Tour made a stop at Fort Benning Aug. 17-21, delivering a message to Soldiers that featured a graphic video presentation depicting scenes of road carnage with personal stories of loss related to driving under the influence. Spectators also got to experience a drinking and driving simulator, while an open casket reserved for the next drunken-driving victim was among the displays.

Brian Beldyga, the tour's senior manager and lead presenter, brings a brash style to the show but said his intent is clear.

"Don't be an idiot. Take the keys," he said. "If you use emotion, it's a proven fact the mind will retain the information longer, as harsh as it is."

Beldyga founded the National Save A Life Tour nine years ago. Based in Grand Rapids, Mich., the organization gives presentations at high schools, colleges, universities and military installations nationwide.

The group had never been to Fort Benning before. Event organizers said they hoped the tour's message would reach up to 2,000 Soldiers throughout the week.

"Any opportunity Soldiers receive to gain knowledge on the adverse effects of drinking and driving can help save lives," said Oskar SchlAfAPmer, prevention coordinator for Fort Benning's Army Substance Abuse Program. "Soldiers are our most valuable commodity. We're just taking care of each other and taking care of our Soldiers. That's what this is all about."

According to the tour's mission statement, the objective is to use every available method "to bring home the shocking reality of the life-changing and often deadly consequences of drinking and driving because adults and peers saying 'Don't drink and drive!' has lost its impact" on today's youth.

Drinking and driving incidents in the United States have not declined in four decades, Beldyga told the audience. The U.S. ranks No. 37 globally in alcohol consumption but is third in drunken-driving episodes.

Beldyga said 40 percent of licensed drivers in America drive drunk on a regular basis. It's estimated that one person is killed every 32 minutes in an impaired-driving crash, he said, and there have been 2 million homicide investigations linked to drunken driving in the U.S. since 1970.

While in college, Beldyga said, he lost his fiancee to a drunken driver.

"People driving home from the bar drunk is a sad reality," he said. "I can't turn that switch on in their heads. Everyone has free will ... (but) I push it in a certain way. I want them all not to be idiots. But I'm also a realist."

The $2.5 million simulator works like a real car - with a 180-degree field of vision - and gives participants a unique perspective on the effects of driving while intoxicated, he said.

"It was different," said SPC Andrea McCalpine of Flight Company, 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment. "I can't compare it to anything I've done. I've never drank and drove before. If that's how it is, I definitely won't do it."

She said she liked the videos because they showed real people, not actors.

"I know people who drink and drive, and it freaks me out," McCalpine said. "Just to know you might lose someone, it scares me ... I've had to take keys away before. This makes me more inclined to stop someone."

SPC Chris Walker of B Company, 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, called the presentation a "reality check" and said he never saw an alcohol awareness program like this.

"The videos were a nice touch. They were better than 'death by PowerPoint,'" Walker said. "(Beldyga) jumped out and grabbed my attention pretty quickly, and held my attention."

Beldyga said it's simply "behavior modification 101."

"We attempt to show people the realities of drinking and driving, and give them answers to the puzzles, so they can't make any excuses for doing it," he said.

Page last updated Thu August 27th, 2009 at 17:48