FORT RUCKER, Ala. (December 6, 2012) -- Driving under the influence not only jeopardizes the lives of the offender and everyone around them, but if caught, it can also have far-reaching consequences for the driver's career.
Driving under the influence is a serious issue both on and off the installation, and officials on Fort Rucker want to make sure people understand the serious consequences that come along with the decision to drive drunk, according to Capt. Megan Mueller, special assistant U.S. attorney for Fort Rucker's Office of the Staff Judge Advocate.
"The abuse of alcohol or drugs is inconsistent with Army values," she said. "If a person gets a DUI on the installation, that person will be prosecuted -- it's a zero tolerance policy -- that's something that people need to understand."
Mueller said that any individual on the installation that is pulled over for suspicion of DUI and cited, that person will have his or her driving privileges suspended on post for a period of one year, regardless of conviction. There are ways to reverse the decision in instances that the case is dismissed, she added, but for the most part the suspension will stick.
"That's a huge thing that a lot of people don't realize because they wouldn't be able to drive to work," she said. "There have been people who have had to park outside the gate and ride their bikes onto the installation or get rides from friends -- it's a huge inconvenience."
If civilians are pulled over for DUI on Fort Rucker, they will be arrested, which will go on their record, and prosecuted in the district court. If convicted, the DUI conviction will also go on their record.
Since there is no federal DUI law, those cited for DUI on post will be prosecuted using Alabama state law, said Mueller. In Alabama, a first time DUI offense carries a minimum penalty of a $600 fine, license suspension of 90 days and the possibility of up to one year of jail time. But in cases that a person has more than a .14 blood alcohol content, he or she will automatically serve jail time and have all fines doubled, she added.
Soldiers on the installation will suffer the same consequences but will also receive a General Office Memorandum of Reprimand, which when coupled with a conviction on the record can greatly affect service members' careers, said Mueller.
"A conviction will stay on your criminal record, so if you're a Soldier in the Army and you move to another state, the conviction will still be visible on your record," she said. "For the GOMORs, when a commanding general [issues them], he decides whether or not it will be filed into a Soldier's local file, which is shredded or destroyed once a person leaves Fort Rucker, or if it will go into his permanent file, which will follow the individual for the rest of his career.
"Generally, when a person gets some sort of reprimand on their permanent record, it's a career killer," said Mueller. "It can prevent promotion, especially in today's Army with the drawdown, and it can even cause a separation board to start."
The Army has jurisdiction over its Soldiers and any crimes they commit, whether on or off an installation. With most off-post issues, the state will handle the case, said the assistant U.S. attorney. If a Soldier gets a DUI in a neighboring city, most times the city will prosecute the Soldier, and if the incident happens on the installation, the Soldier will be prosecuted through the federal court system. Either way, it will affect the Soldier's career.
"DUIs are a big issue that the Army takes very seriously," said Mueller. "If a Soldier is convicted of two serious incidents of alcohol-related misconduct within a one-year period, the Army will initiate separation proceedings."
This doesn't mean that the Soldier will be separated from the Army, but the possibility is there, she added.
In order to prevent incidents like this occurring, on or off the installation, people should be knowledgeable and responsible about alcohol and the affects it has on the body, according to Jeanetta Sheppard, Army Substance Abuse Program clinical program manager.
"The first thing that people need to understand is that alcohol is considered a depressant and it affects the body's central nervous system," she said. "Because of that, alcohol affects a person's judgment and reaction time."
Sheppard said the first part of the body affected by alcohol is the brain, particularly the parts of the brain that allow a person to think clearly and make sound decisions. Shortly after, muscle control and vision will be affected, which greatly reduces a person's ability to drive.
People should also understand that the affects of alcohol vary from person to person, depending on an individual's size, age, metabolism and even gender, said Sheppard.
"Food consumption also plays a role in the way alcohol is absorbed," she said. "If they have food in the stomach, it slows the alcohol absorption rate, but the same amount of alcohol will still be absorbed into the body."
There is also a misconception among people that if a person's tolerance is higher, they are able to consume more alcohol without it affecting them, according to Cynthia Hataway, ASAP supervisory counselor.
"If [a person] has a higher tolerance [for alcohol], he or she can drink more than someone else, but they are still becoming impaired in terms of their reaction time and motor skills," she said. "Their blood alcohol content could still be very high even if they aren't feeling the effects because they have built up a tolerance within their system."
Sheppard and Hataway both agree that people should make sure to educate themselves to ensure the safety of their self and others, and take responsibility to prevent incidents from occurring.
"It can happen to anyone, and that's something that people don't seem to realize when they get into a car after they've been drinking," said Mueller. "A lot of good people, who have never done anything wrong before, go to jail and have their lives changed forever because of a bad decision they made."