Robins Airman talks about how drinking and driving changed his life, career

  • Published
  • By Amanda Creel
  • 78th ABW/PA
Being a staff sergeant select is usually a once-in-a-career achievement, but as one Robins Airman can attest, one bad choice can turn the tide and make reaching this milestone a second time, an uphill battle.

When Senior Airman Tommy Bedrick found out he had a line number for staff sergeant four years ago while stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., he decided to go out and celebrate his success. However, as the night came to a close his celebration turned into a weekend in jail and a blow to his enlisted career.

He said he learned that night that "alcohol is not your friend."

He said he is always telling his fellow Airmen that when it comes to drinking and driving it is not a question of if you get caught, but when.

Airman Bedrick wasn't pulled over because of erratic driving; instead, he caught the officer's eye because of a part failure on his vehicle.

"I was arrested and charged with DWI (Driving While Intoxicated)," Airman Bedrick said.

When he returned to work Monday morning, he should have been headed to Airmen Leadership School. Instead he was meeting with his squadron commander, who informed Airman Bedrick he would no longer be promoted to staff sergeant.

Airman Bedrick said his biggest fear as he returned to work on Monday was being forced out of the Air Force and the option was definitely considered by his superiors.

Airman Bedrick said if it hadn't been for one of his supervisors going to bat for him, he probably wouldn't be wearing Air Force blue today.

"The article 15 was the first punishment I had ever received," he said.

Once the reality set in that he was no longer a staff sergeant select, it was time to begin the court process off base where the DWI occurred.

However, just as his final court date approached, Airman Bedrick learned his fate would once again be in the hands of his squadron commander, who had gained jurisdiction over his DWI.

"Not only did I lose my line number for staff, I lost my senior airman stripe as well. And, that was lots and lots of money that was taken out of pocket for me being stupid and choosing to drive instead of getting a ride home," Airman Bedrick said.

Airman Bedrick said he had to cut ties with a lot of his friends after the incident to ensure he wouldn't make the same mistake twice.

He added he felt fortunate that he was able to continue his Air Force career in light of the events of that night, because he knows a lot of his fellow Airmen who made similar mistakes were not as lucky.

"At the time Barksdale was kicking people out, just straight up saying the military doesn't want you if you are going to cause trouble like this," Airman Bedrick said. "I was one of the fortunate, lucky ones to actually get to stay in and rebuild their careers. Granted it has taken me four years, but here I am today."

Today, Airman Bedrick is a vehicle maintenance journeyman in the 78th Logistics Readiness Squadron and is once again a staff sergeant select waiting to sew on his fourth stripe.

Airman Bedrick said he has spent the last four years, not only improving his own life, but sharing his story with other Airmen hoping to keep them from making the same mistake he did.

He said his message is clear: "Plain and simple, don't drink. If you are going to go out and have a good night, don't drink. It doesn't matter how much you have a plan, there is always going to be something that's going to screw up that plan."

He added he thinks it is important for all Airmen to understand one mistake can ruin your life, but only if you let it.

"Yeah it's a real kick in the pants, but your life's not over with. You may have to change some parts of your life, but change them for the better," Airman Bedrick said.

Suffering the consequences of the decision to get behind the wheel after drinking can be equally damaging to a military career no matter where you are stationed and Robins is no exception, said Maj. Lynn Schmidt, 78 ABW Staff Judge Advocate.

Major Schmidt said the severity of the penalty for a military member depends on the individual circumstances of each case, but no one convicted of a Driving Under the Influence will walk away scot-free.

"Justice is tailored to the individual," she said.

Major Schmidt also stressed that no matter where the DUI arrest is made, on or off base, military members will feel the affects on their career.

She said typically DUI arrests off base will not come under the jurisdiction of the base, but there is always the possibility for a DUI to come under the bases' jurisdiction.

When a DUI offense occurs off base, the military member will not only suffer the consequences of the civilian court, but in most cases, will also receive a letter of reprimand to be placed in an unfavorable information file. Additional options for commanders is placement of the individual on a control roster as well as a referral Enlisted/Officer Performance Report.

"Depending on their service record it could be the basis for an administrative discharge," Major Schmidt said.

If convicted of a DUI on base, military members are subject to an Article 15 or a court-martial. Some of the punishments for enlisted members receiving an Article 15 include a reduction in rank, forfeiture of pay followed by an administrative discharge. Those who are disciplined by court-martial could be sentenced to jail time as well as a bad conduct or dishonorable discharge.

For officers, the penalties are different, but can be just as damaging to their career.

The DUI conviction may be included as part of the officer's promotion recommendation record and many times an officer's upcoming promotion may be redlined as part of the officer's punishment. Officers can also be punished with a forfeiture of pay.

No matter where the DUI occurs or what the rank of the Airman in question is, Major Schmidt said, "this is not something you want on your record."

Other penalties for Airmen convicted of a DUI include revoking the member's driving privileges on base and for those convicted off base, their driver's license could be suspended for an extended period of time.