Base aims to thwart drunken driving

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

With the holidays in full swing, an organization at Cannon Air Force Base is gearing up to curb drinking and driving. By offering free rides without consequences to airmen who have been drinking, members hope to keep partiers from getting behind the wheel.

Airmen Against Drunk Driving works to save the lives and careers of active-duty Air Force personnel, according to group spokesperson Tech. Sgt. Victoria Miller.

The service is available to airmen year-round, though the holidays are a focal point with more parties and social gatherings taking place, Miller said.

From 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., volunteer drivers are on call every day to give no-questions-asked rides to airmen who have been drinking, Miller said.

There are about 100 members in the group serving in various positions with approximately 30 of them alternating on-call driving shifts.

Miller said the cause is close to her heart, adding that she has met some good friends during her two and a half years at Cannon with the program.

“Anytime I can give some help, I like to. I never want to be in that situation where I probably could have helped someone but I just didn’t give that extra time,” she said.

In 2005, there were 21 DWI arrests of Cannon personnel on- and off-base, spokesperson Lt. George Tobias said. To date in 2006 there have been 13, he said. Only one has occurred since Thanksgiving.

Statewide, 34 percent of fatal accidents to date this year have involved alcohol, according to the University of New Mexico Division of Government research Web site.

Military personnel arrested for driving under the influence can face severe penalties.
Not only do they face civilian penalties in local jurisdictions, but they also can face additional penalties through the military regardless of where their arrest takes place, Lt. Col. Charles Killion, Cannon staff judge advocate said in an article in Cannon’s MachMeter.

Punishments can range from revocation of base driving privileges, rank reduction, removal of security clearance, pay forfeiture and others imposed by commanders. All those penalties are in addition to local civilian punishments, he said.

Additionally, each DWI incident with the squadron of the person involved is tallied on a sign near the base exit as a visual reminder to troops leaving the base.

Tobias credits such programs as Airmen Against Drunk Driving and Air Force personal responsibility campaigns for reduced Cannon-related DWIs.

“We’re trying to create a culture of alleviating high-risk behavior by trying to make sure airmen are looking out for each other and also try to enforce wise decisions. We’re trying to facilitate a culture of folks making wise decisions instead of doing something stupid like drinking and driving,” he said.