It was Oct. 3, 2009. I'd spent the past year in the Army National Guard recruit sustainment program while attending advanced individual training and qualifying in my military occupational specialty. After months of eagerly waiting, I was finally ready to report to my unit at 5 a.m. that Saturday morning.

Excited, but a bit nervous, I awoke early enough to have my morning coffee and ensure I had my uniform squared away and had all my records. As the newest enlistee in the unit, I wanted to make a good impression on my Leaders. I glanced in the mirror one more time to ensure my beret fit properly and kissed my husband on my way out the door. It was only about a 20-minute drive to my unit, but I wanted to get there early.

The trip to my Guard unit took me along Alabama Highway 27, a portion of which is a two-lane road with many curves and hills. The sun hadn't yet risen and there was low-hanging fog shrouding the road. I normally drove 50 mph on the highway - 5 mph under the speed limit - but, because of the poor visibility, I decided to drive slower than usual.

Just as I came over a hill, out of nowhere something appeared in the road directly in my path. I quickly veered to the left, missing the object by inches. As I passed the object, I struck debris on the road before stopping on the left shoulder. I turned my head to see what I'd nearly hit and was shocked to see an overturned SUV. The back door, on which the spare tire was mounted, had inadvertently swung out and I barely missed hitting it.

With my heart pounding and my hands shaking, I switched on my hazard flashers to warn other vehicles coming up the hill. Fearing I had run over more than just debris, I took a deep breath, got out of my car and ran to the SUV to see if the occupants needed medical attention. I was sure whatever I found wouldn't be pretty. I called 911 and told the dispatcher what I had discovered and then ran up and down both sides of the road looking for victims - but didn't find any.

After getting off the phone with the 911 dispatcher, I called my unit to explain I would be late. The training sergeant asked me if I was all right and then kidded me, "Is this what I can expect from you on a regular basis' Isn't this a little extreme for trying to get out of drill'"

Reflecting back on that morning, I couldn't have been more fortunate. Had I been traveling the speed limit or faster, I could have ended up smashing into the abandoned SUV. I later found out the driver was an illegal immigrant who, upon arrest, was tested and found to have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.30 - more than 3A,A1/2 times the legal limit. I'm glad I didn't meet him when he was driving.

In short, I owe the fact that I walked away safely from this accident to five main factors:

Aca,!AcI planned ahead and gave myself plenty of time to get where I was going.

Aca,!AcI adjusted for the environmental conditions and reduced my speed.

Aca,!AcI was alert to my surroundings and not distracted by texting or talking on the phone.

Aca,!AcI didn't panic. I applied my brakes gradually and maneuvered around the SUV instead of jerking the steering wheel and overcorrecting.

Aca,!AcMost importantly, I wore my seat belt.

This close call was pretty traumatic for me. It was also a reminder that a deadly surprise can appear out of nowhere. It showed me the best part of safety is always being prepared.