By G. Anthonie Riis | Fort Knox NewsNovember 8, 2019
With seasonal festivities approaching, Army Substance Abuse Program specialists are warning that parties, traveling and stress mean alcohol-related fatalities are much more prevalent during the holiday season.
"The holiday season is picking up, which begins around Thanksgiving and goes through New Year's Eve," said LovieAnn Terrado, ASAP specialist with Fort Knox. "We're trying to get [the message] out that alcohol is not a requirement to have a good time, and that [drunk driving] deaths are 100% preventable."
According to a U.S. Department of Transportation's 2017 article titled, Holiday Drunk Driving Facts, hundreds of lives are lost each year with an average of 300 people dying the week between Christmas and New Year alone.
Terrado said that while most Soldiers and DA civilians don't plan to drive impaired, they think more highly of their tolerance for alcohol than they should.
"Some people play around with the [Blood Alcohol Content] levels. They think, 'I've only had a couple; I'm fine,' but tolerance is a tricky thing," Terrado said. "You may cognitively be okay, but will you have the reflexes to respond to the deer that jumps out or to the winter weather conditions, or to those other drivers who have enjoyed a beverage or two?
"There are already circumstances you don't control even if you're not impaired -- Shouldn't you create an alternative plan to get home without putting yourself and others in danger?"
John Emary, Employee Assistance Program coordinator at ASAP, said there are systems in place to ensure Army leaders are looking out for their Soldiers, but they need to be utilized to reap the benefits.
"The policy is that any holiday parties involving alcohol need to have the senior commander's blessing first, but some people have tried to keep it undercover. That's not helpful at all," Emary said. "If some [organizations] have had subversive parties, then other organizations or units think they can have their own 'because you did it.'"
Emary said commanders and leaders need to make their standards clear.
"We want commanders to bring back the 'safety stand down' before the holidays and before Soldiers travel home -- just that 10 minutes to say, 'Here are some things you should look out for,' and 'Here's how to stay safe;' "Here's how to protect your career,' and, 'We want to see you safely back here for the holidays.'"
Major Edward Faiello, chief of military justice for U.S. Recruiting Command and U.S. Army Cadet Command at Fort Knox, said the consequences for getting caught drinking and driving vary depending on circumstances, but they're never good.
"Drinking and driving is taken very seriously by the command, and Soldiers found guilty of driving while intoxicated can receive adverse administrative actions, like a General Officer Memoranda of Reprimand, bars to reenlistment and suspended driving privileges," Faiello said, "and in certain cases, they can receive non-judicial punishment."
Faiello said civilian employees' drinking and driving habits may also their livelihoods.
"The severity of consequences is usually dictated by the severity of the offence," Faiello said. "I cannot speak directly to how it might affect [a person's] security clearance, but I understand that in some instances it can result in a suspension of a security clearance."
The Directorate of Emergency Service's Chief of Police, Michael Doggett, said a mistake made in the moment will keep costing you in the future.
"A DUI charge can cost upwards of $10,000 and cause a great toll on one's career and family. It is very difficult to get past and will follow you throughout the rest of your career," said Doggett. "Don't risk everything you've worked for and care about. If you plan to drink, have a designated driver or call a ride share to get home safe. Don't drink and drive."
Emary's suggestion for partygoers is to think about what's really important.
"The holiday season is the most stressful time of the year for most people. You're getting together with people you may not get along with and doing things you don't normally do, and many people drink a little bit to relax," Emary said. "It helps to make a plan to do something different. Take that moment to think of those things you love and want to keep, and consider what life would be like if any or all of these were taken away. Decide today what you will do instead of turning to alcohol or other things that will impair your decisions and reflexes."
Terrado said party hosts also have some responsibility.
"You can't force adults not to drink, and you can't know when it is safe for people who have been drinking to drive. Whether a unit or an individual has a party, you absolutely have to have a plan," said Terrado. "What people are going to stay sober, and how will you get family and friends home safely?
"You can never give back a life taken by a drunk driver, but those deaths don't have to happen. People who drink should never get behind the wheel."