Having a base-wide impact with just one decision: Base launches new drug and alcohol awareness campaign

  • Published
  • By Col. Theresa Carter
  • 78th ABW/CC
It's amazing how some dates "stick" in your mind - your mom's birthday, weddings, the day you arrived at your first duty station. I have many such dates, but one that tugs at my heart is July 11, 1997. On that day, Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Jackson graduated from the Kisling NCO Academy at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. It was a proud moment for him and his wife, Hiroko, as she and four other members of the 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base watched him accept his diploma.

I have a photo of them, smiling broadly for the camera before the ceremony started, celebrating this significant milestone. I can't look at the photo without getting choked up - for you see, on the drive back to Spangdahlem, when they were only five miles from home, Tech. Sgt. Terry Jennings' Isuzu Trooper was hit head on by an 18-wheeler driven by a drunk driver who fell asleep at the wheel. Sergeant Jennings, Staff Sgt. Kevin Sullivan, Senior Airman Angela Fralick and Mrs. Jackson were killed instantly.

Miraculously, then-Staff Sgt. Theresa Hall survived despite serious injuries that required her to spend a year at Wilford Hall for rehabilitation. I still remember the gasps and screams in the theater at Spangdahlem as my squadron commander told us what happened...shock, anger, sadness and a thousand other emotions coursed through us all. We wanted answers, wanted to know why this happened, wanted to understand why a trucker would choose to drink and drive, but no answer could bring back the members of my squadron.

In the nearly 10 years since that accident, we continue to lose valuable members of our Air Force due to alcohol or drug-related incidents. Recent Air Force statistics show 81 percent of alcohol related incidents occur in the 17 to 24 year age group, yet this same group makes up only 33 percent of our service. Alcohol was a factor in 33 percent of all suicides, 57 percent of sexual assaults, 29 percent of domestic violence incidents and 44 percent of fatal motor vehicle accidents. Those statistics are startling and should make you stop and think about the choices you make.

If you're still not convinced this is an issue for Team Robins, consider the following data: Between September 2006 and February 2007, the number of DUIs at Robins tripled and the number of underage drinking incidents increased five times from what it was over the previous six months (March to August 2006). Positive drug tests are also up among both our military members and our drug-testing eligible civilian employees.

After my wing had its fifth DUI in three weeks in early February 2007, I challenged my units to come up with positive solutions to reverse this trend and tasked the Robins Alcohol Issues Working Group to develop a program that helps promote responsible choices among our Airmen. You might be surprised at what we learned - there's a common perception that there are little or no consequences for offenders. Many Airmen wanted offenders to receive significant punishment and surprisingly, many even supported a discharge. All felt unit leaders needed to be more involved and use face-to-face communication to talk about these issues. We also noted the wingman culture needs significant work - in several DUIs, including one this past weekend, fellow Airmen failed to ensure they took positive steps to prevent their buddy from driving after drinking. Across the board, Airmen mistakenly believe there's nothing wrong with driving after having two or three drinks because "they feel fine" and had done it hundreds of times before.

Senior Master Sgt. Anthony Pope and the AIWG did a fantastic job developing a new program called Drug and Alcohol Responsibility Condition, or DARCON for short. We are launching this program in May to coincide with the kickoff of the 101 Critical Days of Summer. Patterned after Force Protection Conditions, DARCON aims to raise awareness levels throughout the installation when a drug or alcohol related incident occurs in one of our units by instilling personal accountability and increasing individual awareness.

So how will this work? Let's say we have a Team Robins member arrested for assault, alcohol use was a factor but thankfully no significant injuries occurred. After being notified of the incident by the command post, I will direct implementation of DARCON Bravo which will drive actions at the unit-level, forcing commanders and unit members to take positive steps to re-enforce responsible behavior and smart choices.

The goal is to quickly get the attention of our Airmen, let them know what happened and get them talking and exerting positive peer pressure as we strive to eliminate drug and alcohol-related misconduct.

I need your help to make this program a success. Be active, be involved, be a wingman. After all, I don't want any of you to endure a "July 11" event that will stay with you forever. 

DARCON NORMAL -- Applies when no drug or alcohol related incidents have occurred. 
DARCON ALPHA -- Applies when there is an increased risk for drug or alcohol abuse (for example, prior to an upcoming holiday, three-day weekend or other similar event)
DARCON BRAVO -- Applies when a drug or alcohol-related incident occurred and no significant injuries are reported 
DARCON CHARLIE -- Applies when a drug or alcohol-related incident occurs and resulted in significant injuries to one or more personnel
DARCON DELTA -- Applies when a drug or alcohol-related incident resulted in death