JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
Our country is a land of many rights and freedoms for our fellow citizens. Rights also come with great responsibility to ensure that we can continue to enjoy them.
One of the freedoms is being able to responsibly enjoy a drink once a person turns 21-years-old, but being irresponsible with alcohol can be a costly and deadly decision.
"Unfortunately some military members disregard all the warnings and lessons regarding drinking and driving and end up suffering the consequences of receiving a DUI," said Capt. Adam Tan, 628th Air Base Wing Legal Office chief of adverse actions. "Drinking and driving never ends up with a positive outcome. Ultimately you can kill yourself and or someone else. It is an unnecessary risk with many regrets."
Getting pulled over on base for driving under the influence is no laughing matter. After performing a field sobriety test, a person pulled over for a DUI will have to take a breathalyzer. Failing is the least of a person's worries.
"The first thing we do when we receive news of a military member charged with a DUI on base is to contact that persons' first sergeant," said Tan. "Then, we contact the military member's commander. All punishment for military members rest within the discretion of the commander. Commanders like to keep the punishments for DUI's consistent and most military members receive an Article 15 or non-judicial punishment, forfeiture of pay, restriction to base, extra duty, reduction of rank, reprimand and loss of driving privileges."
If a military member receives a DUI off base and he or she is arrested by the local police department, the base legal office contacts the counties' solicitor and asks if the legal office can handle the case.
"The solicitor decides if they want to press charges or if they want to hand over the case to the base," Tan said. "If they hand over the case to us, the military receives the same punishments as getting a DUI on base. If the solicitor denies, they will keep the DUI case and the military member will have to go to court.
"If a military member is sent to court, the punishment is left up to the judge and or jury. Punishments for off base DUIs usually are a fine, loss of driver's license, court cost and higher insurance rates."
According to Tan, the average cost of an off base DUI is $5,000 to $20,000 (in legal fees and penalties.
"Getting a DUI on base can be costly as well," said Tan. "You can lose half of your pay for two months. Imagine paying your bills with half of the money you normally receive. And, you lose the money you would have gotten if you weren't demoted. E-4 and below can be demoted to E-1."
Money isn't the only thing to worry about after getting a DUI. Due to the current budget constraints and the military looking for ways to cut back, military members who get a DUI are on the top of the list when it comes to roll backs, said Tan.
"It costs the Air Force manpower and money to handle DUI cases," Tan said. "It makes it easy for the Air Force to involuntarily separate Airmen who receive DUIs when they are looking for people to cut. DUIs are career killers and depending on the type of discharge the Airman receives, he can lose his benefits as well."
Tech. Sgt. Clifford Hartley, 628th Security Forces Squadron Alpha Flight chief, said Security Forces members are trained to detect if someone is driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol.
"We take courses, do on-the-job training and have annual requirements to learn how to detect if a driver is under the influence," said Hartley. "If we pull over a vehicle that is swaying or hitting a curb, we monitor the drivers look, smell and speech. If we ask to see their ID and they hand us a debit card, it's usually a good indication to perform a field sobriety test.
"During the sobriety test we ask the driver to step out of their vehicle, perform a walk and turn and one-legged stand. If they are deemed impaired, we handcuff them and take them to the squadron where we conduct a breathalyzer. People's biggest mistake is thinking they are going to get away with drinking and driving."
Whether a person is drinking to celebrate a holiday or just hanging out with some friends, remember to always have a plan. Never get behind the wheel after drinking, Tan said. Military members are on duty 24-hours a day.
"Being a military member means you are held to a higher standard," he said. "Your decision will not only affect you in the moment, but will also affect your career. Calling AADD is a good idea and free. Getting a DUI is not."
If your primary plan fails and you are drinking, please call 963-AADD for a 'no questions asked' ride.