MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Airman A epitomized what every stellar Airman should be. He passed every test with flying colors, volunteered during his free time and went above and beyond during his everyday job.
He had just received Senior Airman below-the-zone, a promotion given six months early, and went out to celebrate.
Before he knew it, red and blue lights were flashing behind him. Through blurry eyes, he attempted to walk in a straight line and blow through a breathalyzer -- the number flashing back was beyond the legal limit. Airman A had thought he was fine after the few drinks he had that night, but he quickly learned what those drinks would really cost him.
When an Airman receives a driving under the influence charge, they are eligible to receive both a civilian conviction, if caught off base, as well as a punishment given at their commander’s discretion. The final sentence could cost thousands of dollars in fines, suspension of their license, negative paperwork, administrative demotion and possible loss of career or reclassification.
“Every time you put yourself behind the wheel after you’ve been drinking, you’re jeopardizing your freedom, your money and even your career,” said Master Sgt. Klexton Jett, 723rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron first sergeant. “Above all, you’re putting yourself in a situation where you could take someone’s life or your own life. Why would you put yourself in that situation?”
Once an Airman is charged with a DUI, they are immediately arrested and taken to county jail. When the local authorities keep jurisdiction of the DUI, the Airman’s license will be suspended both on and off base for usually more than a year, and they will be charged with fines of at least $1,000.
Once the Airman is processed into the county jail, the 23rd Security Forces Squadron law enforcement desk or command post on base will be notified and the Airman’s leadership will be contacted. The Airman will be released once their bail is paid, or depending on the county, they may be released to their first sergeant or commander.
“Once we get the call, it’s my role to make sure the Airman is as taken care of as well as they can be and start working to get them out,” Jett said. “They already know what they did is wrong, so we’re just trying to make sure they get home and taken care of.”
After the Airman is home and recovered, they must report to their commander in their service dress uniform to discuss what happened and what their punishment will be.
“[Legal] will talk with the Airman’s commander and advise them what the appropriate course of action should be,” said 1st Lt. Cristina Solis, 23rd Wing assistant staff judge advocate. “An Airman can receive a letter of reprimand, an unfavorable information file, an administrative demotion and be placed on a control roster, making them ineligible to deploy, attend formal training or receive a new assignment.
“In my experience, commanders will give all four as punishment,” Solis added.
Though negative paperwork may not cause an immediate end to an Airman’s career, it can have serious long-term effects, making an Airman ineligible to promote on their next enlisted performance report cycle. If an Airman does not promote prior to high year tenure (the designated amount of time given to reach their next rank), they are released from the Air Force.
In addition, Airmen in particular career fields, such as security forces, could be removed from their specific career field and be reclassified into a new career.
“Depending on where you’re at in your career, it could be the end,” Jett said. “It’s not like you just came in late for work, you got a DUI. That is something that sticks with you through your career, and you could still see punishments for it even months down the line.”
Although Airman A is not a real Airman, he represents the fate of a growing number of Airmen today. Everyone has seen him, whether it’s walking through the commissary or sitting beside him in their squadron. Despite who the Airman is, according to Jett, the most common reason for DUIs is a lack of planning.
To overcome this issue, there are resources available to Airmen such as Airmen Against Drunk Driving, taxi services and an Airmen’s leadership.
“I always tell my Airmen they can call me any time,” Jett said. “I’d rather have to do that at 2 a.m. than to have to give a casualty briefing or brief my commander that we have a member locked up. That’s what we’re here for.”