FORT WAINWRIGHT – Driving under the influence of alcohol is the top crime affecting Fort Wainwright, with a significant increase in arrests for DUI since 2019. From April to June 2022, 37 soldiers were arrested for the crime. In an effort to reduce drunk driving incidents and save lives, the Fort Wainwright Police Department has developed a new interactive training program to educate soldiers on the affects alcohol has on their ability to drive.
Almost 40 soldiers from Delta Company, 1-25 Attack Battalion, were the first to take part in the pilot training session. The in-person event held on post lasted an hour and a half and consisted of three educational segments followed by the opportunity to browse informational displays and pick up promotional items.
In the first segment of the training, Fort Wainwright Police Chief Tom Kearns talked about increased reaction times of drivers under the influence of alcohol. He illustrated the increase in stopping distance with cones arranged to simulate an intersection on the gym floor. Soldiers role-played as intoxicated partygoers and drivers and as pedestrians in the simulated intersection to keep the group’s attention.
Kearns was the originator of the training and said he drew on his many years of policing in college and military communities, both groups that typically have higher rates of alcohol consumption and arrest rates for DUI. He wanted to offer memorable training that did not involve PowerPoint presentations or sitting in front of a computer.
For the second segment of the training, a handful of the soldiers got the opportunity to play the beanbag game cornhole while wearing “drunk goggles.” The goggles have modified lenses that simulate the visual distortion and physical impairment experienced by a heavily intoxicated person. Amanda Beus, a prevention coordinator with the Army Substance Abuse Program, coached the soldiers through the game, handed out small prizes to those who participated or answered questions, and had soldiers laughing at her relatable commentary.
Beus also engaged the soldiers in more serious discussion after the game, describing how alcohol reduces inhibitions and is frequently referred to as “liquid courage,” as people will engage in certain activities like dancing that they would not do otherwise. Rather than “liquid courage,” however, Beus believes alcohol should be more properly termed “liquid weakness” in that people frequently engage in negative, harmful behaviors they would not have done sober.
“You don’t get to pick and choose which inhibitions alcohol takes away,” Beus told the attendees. She then told the participants that 68 percent of completed suicides and over 50 percent of sexual assaults and domestic violence incidents are associated with alcohol consumption. She also told them individuals are more likely to cheat on their romantic partners/spouses while under the influence of alcohol.
In the final instructional segment of the event, soldiers heard from Spc. Matthew Ruiz, president of Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers, which also operates the Soldiers Against Drunk Driving van, and Capt. Derek Sanchez from the Staff Judge Advocate office.
Ruiz explained how the SADD van provides safe rides home for intoxicated soldiers, family members, and federal civilian employees – anyone with a valid DoD identification card – between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays . The van will pick up riders at locations on and off post and take them to their on- or off-post residence. The van driver waits until disembarking passengers are safely inside before departing. From Oct. 1, 2022, through Feb. 15, 2023, SADD conducted 488 pickups.
After one soldier asked whether ride requests were reported to the soldiers’ units, Ruiz said while they do take down each rider’s name and unit in case there is an incident in the van, they do not share the information with the unit unless an incident cannot be resolved with the soldier directly. The anonymity of the services eliminates worry over potential effects to their career from a night of drinking and encourages soldiers to “do the right thing” by calling for a ride rather than attempting to drive themselves home.
In an interview before the training session, Raiana Grant, an investigative analyst with the Fort Wainwright Police Department, said that her review of data obtained from SADD logbooks and FWPD crime statistics shows that the units on post with the highest rates of offense are those with the lowest rates of SADD van ridership.
After the instructional period, soldiers were able to browse informational and promotional materials from ASAP, BOSS, SADD, and the garrison safety office and talk with the presenters.
Kearns would like to eventually offer the training to all the units on base once per year and can provide additional sessions upon request as well. He said that after training has been given to a number of units they will measure its effectiveness by whether there is a corresponding drop in DUI arrests.
Delta Company’s senior enlisted leader, 1st. Sgt. Christopher Grant attended the training with his soldiers and appreciated the format, saying that “It was low-key, it wasn’t a PowerPoint slide, it was interactive… Involving the soldiers in the training helps better solidify the understanding of the topic.” He noted that holding it in a larger venue next time so the police officers could better demonstrate the stopping distances would make it even better.
The majority of DUI offenses on Fort Wainwright are committed by soldiers of the ranks of sergeant and below, or ages 25 and under, said Raiana Grant.
“There’s a reason behind that,” said Spc. Hans London, a participant in the training. “Sometimes, it can be personal, and there are things going on at home. Like, I’m 4,200 miles away [from home], but what makes soldiers do these things?”
In terms of the day’s training format, he reflected, “Training like this is probably better, and I pay more attention. In all honesty, whenever it’s on the computer, I just get on my phone and wait for the next slide. It probably keeps people’s attention whenever you have a person-to-person training like this.”
Units wanting to request their own training session may contact Chief Kearns at the FWPD by phone or e-mail.