Once is All it Takes
May 31, 2012
When the night finally ended, my buddy asked me, "Are you OK to drive?" Despite the amount of alcohol I drank, I thought I felt fine and believed my blood alcohol concentration was under the legal limit. I am embarrassed to say I was wrong, which I found out when I was pulled over by the local police and later arrested for driving under the influence.
Prior to my arrest, I attended the mandatory safety briefs. For me and most of my classmates, briefs were just a check-the-block necessity to have our leaves and passes approved. I can tell you what my classmates were thinking during the brief -- if they were even listening. It was either, "I am so lucky I didn't get caught last weekend," or, like myself, "I rarely go out, and when I do, I'm never the one driving." Unfortunately, I am living proof that once is all it takes.
As many of us look to our peers for advice, guidance and council, I am writing this to you, Soldier to Soldier. My hope is to inspire at least one other Soldier to not make the same decision I did when I chose to get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol.
I have the same dream as many of you. When I was 8 years old, I told my father, "Daddy, I want to be an officer in the Army and I want to fly helicopters."
As a 67J aeromedical evacuation officer, my path to flight school may have been slightly different than some aviators, but it was no less difficult. I took the same flight physical as everyone else, assembled a packet that was reviewed by a flight board and I waited patiently … anxiously for the results. When I received the phone call congratulating me on my acceptance, I thought I had finally achieved my childhood dream. That dream came to a screeching halt the night I drove while intoxicated.
I am now facing a General Officer Memorandum of Record, which will most likely end my career. No more flight school, no more promotions and no more Army. As I write this, my future in the armed services is uncertain.
Although the end of your career may seem like the end of the world, DUIs can have more serious consequences. How many Soldiers do we have to lose to drunk driving? How many innocent Family members do we have to lose after being hit by a drunk driver? I consider myself lucky that a police officer pulled me over before I wrapped my car around a tree or hit an innocent motorist driving the opposite direction. Could you bear the guilt of taking someone's life?
There is also the organization as a whole to consider. We are an Army at war. I was chosen above my peers to fill a slot as a 67J. As a result of my mistake, there is the very real possibility that I will be separated from the Army, and this slot will go unfilled. Consequently, there may be one less pilot available to evacuate a wounded Soldier.
Unfortunately, many of us try to subjectively judge our level of impairment without knowing exactly how a BAC of .08 feels. I know now that if I had even the slightest doubt of my sobriety, I should have called a taxi and never subjected my friends to ride in my vehicle or risked my career. It didn't matter whether I had one beer or 10 before getting behind the wheel. It wasn't worth taking the chance.
While people might react differently to alcohol, we can't use the excuse of not feeling drunk to justify a stupid mistake. Our careers, our lives and the lives of those around us are at risk and are worth far more than any taxi fare. As a Soldier, I can tell you from first-hand experience.
See related story - What's it Worth?
MAJ. JENNIFER CLARK
Command Judge Advocate
U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center
Fort Rucker, Ala.
Parties are fun. Getting a DUI is not. Putting your life, your passengers' lives and the lives of innocent motorists and pedestrians at risk should be deterrent enough. If you are lucky enough not to have injured anyone, you may still face a variety of administrative or punitive actions because of the DUI.
If a Soldier receives a DUI on post and is not prosecuted by civilian authorities, the command may pursue punitive (Uniform Code of Military Justice) action ranging from an Article 15 to a trial by court martial. If a Soldier receives a DUI off post, he or she will face prosecution from the civilian authorities. However, this would not prevent the Soldier's command from pursuing punitive action for associated conduct not prosecuted by civilian authorities such as Article 133, Conduct Unbecoming and Officer and Gentlemen, Article 134, Disorderly Conduct, or Article 95, Resistance of Arrest.
A General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand is automatically initiated and the chain of command will make filing recommendations. They could recommend permanent filing, which means the reprimand goes into a Soldier's official military personnel file and follows them wherever they go. There are other possible administrative actions the command could take regardless the Soldier's prosecution by civilian authorities or having received UCMJ action. Examples are a non-transferable suspension of favorable action -- a flag -- lifted when court proceedings or UCMJ is served and complete; revocation of pass and/or driving privileges; a Relief for Cause evaluation report; a bar to reenlistment; and if convicted by a civilian court, an administrative reduction in grade.
Injury due to driving under the influence may result in a finding of not in the line of duty - due to own misconduct. Soldiers could find themselves losing pay and/or a variety of veteran's administration benefits.
Is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol worth it? Be smart and always make sure you have a designated driver.