By Chief Warrant Officer 3 Alphonso White, Wheeler Army Airfield, HawaiiApril 23, 2019
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 23, 2019) - I was headed home from a 15-month-long tour in Iraq when I boarded a plane in Stuttgart, Germany. I sat impatiently on the plane, my mind filled with thoughts of seeing my family and friends once again. The trip from Germany was long, but it passed quickly as I thought about home. In all that excitement, not once did I imagine what was in store when we landed stateside.
Soon after the plane landed, we were marched into the gymnasium for our return-home ceremony at Fort Stewart, Georgia. The ceremony felt like it lasted for hours as I waited to be released to join my family. My child was born during my deployment and this would be my first opportunity to see her since my brief rest and recuperation leave. Everything was going the way I had imagined - that is until we were pulled away from our families for yet another formation.
Our company commander gathered the unit and began giving the restrictions for the 48-hour pass we were each afforded. Among the restrictions, we were not to drink, drive or go outside of a 250-mile radius from Fort Stewart. I felt a little uneasy about those restrictions because my family had to return to South Carolina. I wanted to spend more time than just the few hours they were down visiting.
I told my mother I was thinking about riding back with my family and returning to Fort Stewart the following Monday for the next scheduled formation. I knew that was against the orders that were just put out; however, as a young Soldier, all I was concerned about was spending time with my family. I felt fine and couldn't understand why everyone was harping on jet lag. After all, I slept the majority of the plane ride. I thought to myself, "How much sleep do they want me to have before driving?"
After being released from formation, my family and I got on the road and headed north to South Carolina. I was so elated to have my daughter in my arms and to be headed somewhere not surrounded by Soldiers, sand and portable toilets. That night would go by very fast. Between catching up with my mother and waking up in the middle of the night to feed my daughter, I got very little sleep. However, I felt great and not the least bit tired.
Finally, it came time for me to return to Fort Stewart - a 4 1/2-hour drive. What I wasn't expecting was the effect of not driving a private motor vehicle for more than a year would have on me. I had been driving for about 3 1/2 hours when my eyes began getting heavy. I remember them closing constantly, but I forced myself to stay awake. I told myself I would pull over and stretch at the rest area just across the state line, but my plan didn't work.
Before I realized it, I fell asleep and veered into the median. When I opened my eyes, I was startled to see I was halfway into the median headed toward a construction sign. I panicked and overcorrected, causing my car to swerve and barely miss hitting the guardrail. By now, I was sliding out of control and heading toward a tree. I can remember thinking I needed to brace for the impact. Fortunately, my car stopped just short of the tree. I remember just sitting there, my hands clenching the steering wheel, my eyes wide open and thinking I was the luckiest man alive. After I calmed down, I put the car in reverse, got back on the highway and stopped at the first hotel, where I slept for the night.
My decision to disobey orders and not abide by the risk management measures that were put in place almost cost my life. A price like that is far too much to pay for not having the patience to wait until the travel restrictions were over to see my family. I realized then driving while fatigued is one of the most dangerous things a person could ever do.
From that moment forward, I have strictly abided by rest cycles, along with other driving safety measures I have been taught, and obeyed any restrictions handed down from leadership. I strongly encourage anyone who reads this article to understand your life is worth more than the brief time you'll gain by not pulling over or getting the proper rest before traveling. Make sure to get adequate sleep before you drive. Remember, the goal is to arrive safely.
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