Drunk driving: prepare for impact

  • Published
  • By Airman Ryan Conroy
  • 31st Fighter Wing
Henry Dang was a sophomore in high school who played basketball and ran track with aspirations of one day wearing a law enforcement badge and uniform. He was well liked by everyone around him, excelled in school and his first priority was always his family.

Henry was a close friend of mine. I say 'was' because during my senior year in high school, the reality of drinking and driving hit home. Henry was riding his bike back to his house when an off-duty police officer struck him going nearly 40 mph over the speed limit, while he was under the influence of alcohol.

Henry was 15 years old.

The days of playing basketball until the sun went down were gone. The aspirations of someone who had so much potential -- gone. Yet, the memories serve as a constant reminder of what drinking and driving stole from us.

I saw firsthand the absolutely heartbreaking consequences of that officer's actions through my friend's mother, sister and my friends. Who expects their son to pass away at such a young age? Who can honestly say they are prepared for that type of heartache?

I find that when a person decides to drive their car inebriated, it is the single most selfish and imprudent act a person can follow through on. I find it selfish that drunk drivers have the capability of turning lives upside-down, bringing pain and sorrow to those around them and potentially ending someone else's life. They aren't just making the decision for themselves; they're making the decision for everyone on the road.

You may think, 'Hey, that officer took an oath to protect and to serve. He should be held to a higher standard.' But don't we, as service members, have the same obligation? Did we not take an oath to protect our country against all enemies, foreign and domestic? I consider an intoxicated individual behind the wheel of a vehicle as a domestic enemy and I encourage others to view it as the same.

According to 31st Security Forces Squadron reports and analysis, military members stationed at Aviano were charged with 40 DUIs in which 19 resulted in vehicle accidents in the past year.

One of those statistics happened to be another friend of mine. In the military we know that death can be a part of the job, but we think it will happen defending our country. We don't expect our wingmen to die because an individual decided their best option for getting themselves home was to hop in a car without the functioning capability of controlling a two-ton vehicle.

Something needs to change; whether it's our thought process on drinking and driving, or becoming a better wingman. I've heard people joke saying, 'It's okay; I'm the designated drunk driver.' But there's nothing funny about endangering those around you by driving impaired.

As wingmen, we have a responsibility to keep not only our friends, but anyone who has had too much to drink, off the road. We must employ any means necessary including physically taking the keys away from an individual who believes they can drive.

According to the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, depending on the circumstance, the consequences for drinking and driving can range from losing a stripe, forfeiture of pay, Article 15 and extra duty to a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and 18 months confinement.

When a DUI results in death, the consequences could escalate to involuntary manslaughter with a maximum punishment of 10 years confinement. What the UCMJ doesn't mention is the lifetime of guilt and remorse an individual will experience after killing another person.

So, the next time you are planning to go out, think of the possible consequences of making the decision to get behind the wheel of a vehicle after having a "few" drinks. If you're not concerned about what could happen to you, think about the innocent people on the road with you. Could you live with yourself if you took a human life?

If you allow yourself or a friend of yours to drink and drive, then be prepared for impact.