WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 14, 2006) Lt. Col. John C. Pastino lost his role model, hunting buddy and best friend when his 60-year-old father, Carmen N. Pastino, was killed by a drunk driver on Easter Sunday 2001.

The great loss inspires him to educate others.

"Was my father killed so that I could teach a lesson to others' I sure hope not, but it is all I can do at this point," Pastino said. "If I can save others, then I have honored him."

Since his father's tragic death, Pastino has educated more than 600 people about the dangers of drinking and driving, recently turning his effort to fellow Soldiers.

"You hear about drunk drivers, and you hear about the victims. Until it happens close to home you really can't relate to it," he said. "Soldiers know me, and I think they will relate to my story."

Pastino presented a slideshow, filled with emotional pictures, statistics and injury reports, to the Army's Center for Substance Abuse this October. So moved were ACSA employees that they plan to add Pastino's message to the Army's alcohol awareness programs.

"When you see his presentation, you see the face of a Soldier who lost a loved one, and that message is very different - very powerful," said Thomas J. Marquez, chief of ACSA's Prevention Education Branch.

<b>The powerful story</b>

Carmen and Marjorie Pastino were spending Easter 2001 in Texas as a newly retired couple when their vacation was tragically cut short. A drunk driver struck the couple's 2001 Intrepid, leaving Marjorie severely injured and Carmen trapped inside.

Emergency workers struggled for 77 minutes to recover Carmen from the car, but they would not get to the father of two in time.

"A Vietnam veteran killed by a drunk driver - it just doesn't make sense." Pastino said.

When notified of his father's death, Pastino and his family rushed to Texas' Galveston Hospital where Marjorie, unaware of her husband's death, lay with multiple contusions and black-and-blue marks.

Pastino's mother was spared, but moving on without Carmen has been difficult.

"Whether you are the victim, the family of the victim or the individual who created the accident, you will never be the same again. My outlook on life has changed, and I want to publicize my story so others will be responsible," Pastino said. "If you're going to drink, have a plan and use it."

The ACSA looks forward to helping Pastino share these lessons with the Army and plans to incorporate his story into programs, newsletters and awareness packages used by the field.

"When you look at the same policies and programs everyday, it is easy to get caught up in the daily grind. It's presentations like this that reinforce the importance of alcohol awareness," said Marquez.

Pastino, who has served 18 years in the Army, is happy to help spread the word.

"I want everyone to realize that if this can happen to my father, it can happen to anyone," Pastino said.

Carmen Pastino was not a likely victim. After retiring from 30 years of service in the Marines, he spent 10 years serving as a Virginia magistrate, where he saw his fair share of impaired drivers.

"He would point his finger at them (the offenders) and say, 'I'm locking you up for your safety and the safety of others,'" Pastino said. "That always stuck with me."

<b>The road ahead</b>

The Department of Defense Private Motor Vehicle Accident Reduction Task Force is working hard to ensure drunk-driving offenders face strict enforcement.

Tighter alcohol standards are at the forefront of DoD discussion, according to Maj. Gen. David Bice, chairman of the task force and inspector general of the Marine Corp.

"As I look across the Department of Defense in terms of how we are addressing private motor-vehicle fatalities, I find we do a good job on information, a fair job in terms of training, and a poor one when it comes to enforcement of policies," Bice said. "We don't want to be policing up the aftermath of crashes; we want to prevent them."

The task force is one of eight committees created to meet former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's directive to reduce safety-related incidents within DOD by 75 percent over a two-year period.

Task-force statistics reveal that 21 percent of servicemembers admit to drinking heavily, but Bice believes the fear of consequence will ensure these Soldiers stay off the road.

"This is not just about safety; your mom tells you to be safe," Bice said. "We ensure that servicemembers are accountable. Professional Soldiers, professional Marines, professional Airman don't drive badly, cause crashes and kill fellow Americans."

Pastino agrees.

"Our Soldiers need to do the right thing and understand that a D.U.I can mean no more service - no more career."

The task force plans to use stricter punishment practices to keep reckless servicemembers off the road.

"We are establishing new methodologies to hold ourselves accountable up and down the chain of command, and we intend to take action against individuals who drive recklessly and cause fatal crashes," Bice said.

For Pastino, this accountability is more than a proposed directive. It is a memoriam to a deserving American, father and husband- Carmen N. Pastino.

"My father would be very proud that I'm able to tell this story. He always taught us to do the right thing, and I believe telling his story is the right thing to do," Pastino said.

Page last updated Tue November 14th, 2006 at 09:46