Airmen Against Drunk Driving: A great way to serve and save lives

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
The weekend leading up to the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., June 7, seemed like the perfect time for people to add extra pirate flair to their routine at the Emerald Coast. Many local residents employed the pirate legend in their activities by sporting tri-corner hats, sprinkling their vocabulary with the word "arrrr" and maybe even downing a few bottles o' rum.

And with every opportunity to consume alcoholic beverages, people also assume the responsibilities that come with it: knowing know when they've had enough to drink; maintaining their situational awareness of the location and its patrons; and following through with their designated plans for a return trip home.

However, any best-laid plan is always subject to change: a designated driver may change his or her mind and leave with a "new friend;" the money for a taxi cab may be spent on more drinks or even stolen; and the person may be stranded in an unfamiliar area with no means of transportation. Perhaps worse, an inebriated person may feel they are sober enough and close enough to their destination that they may risk getting behind the wheel once more.

But people in those situations and others don't have to give way to the consequences that may follow their present conditions. They can call upon Airmen Against Drunk Driving, a volunteer organization dedicated to providing those Airmen a safe drive home.

While its logos and names may slightly differ from installation to installation, many Air Force bases have a form of the program as a means to deter potential career-ending violations and to save lives. The service, open to all military-ID card holders, is confidential and done without prejudice or question.

Once a person calls the number, the command post notifies a volunteer dispatcher with the contact information and location. The dispatcher then coordinates with available volunteer drivers to pick them up, factoring in that the driver and passengers are of the same gender. The driver may not be in uniform nor will they ask the person's name, rank, squadron or job. They will take the person home, be it at Hurlburt Field or in a local city, and not to another club.

Senior Airman Abigail Levesque, 1st Special Operations Medical Operations Squadron mental health technician, has been the vice-president of the Hurlburt Field A.A.D.D. program since January 2010. Before that she served as both a dispatcher and volunteer driver since she first arrived to the base in 2007.

"Part of my job is seeing people with [driving under the influences charges] and it saddens me to see people couldn't make the best decision," Airman Levesque said. "I wanted to be able to help someone by getting them home safely and making sure their loved ones get to see them the next day and didn't have to get that awful phone call saying the person was in jail or their car was wrecked or they were in the hospital."

The consequences of a DUI do not always end at the scene of the crime. Airmen can be subject to reduction in rank and pay grade, revocation of driving privelidges, paying of thousands of dollars in court fees, performing community service, attending numerous alcohol-education classes and waiting months before they get their license back. All of this could have been avoided with a single phone call to A.A.D.D.

Program members also take an active role in educating the base about alcohol awareness and the consequences of drinking and driving. Airman 1st Class Blake Baggarly, 1st Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron logistics planner, first learned about A.A.D.D. when he was at the Commando Pride Airman Center in May. Within weeks, he became a volunteer driver and went out on a few weekend calls.

"I thought it was not only a good volunteer opportunity, but a chance to keep people from getting people kicked out of the Air Force for something as stupid as not having a ride," Airman Baggarly said. "It's really a win-win situation for me because I like to help people and don't want to see them get in trouble."

Airman Levesque estimated nearly 150 different Airmen have volunteered to be drivers or dispatchers and thousands of hours have been logged since 2010 began. But she said the program always welcomes more volunteers.

"Volunteering for A.A.D.D. also looks good on a performance report," Airman Levesque said. "And if you volunteer more than 1,000 hours, you can qualify for the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal."

Those hours of service do not necessarily depend on the trips, but the amount of time the volunteer is on call. A weekday shift from Tuesday evening to Saturday morning equals 84 hours in which the roads could have been spared a potential intoxicated driver.

Although drivers are not reimbursed for gas or potentially messy damage to their cars, the volunteers do so knowing the cost of clean-up and mileage is nothing compared to the price if no one else did what they were doing.

"It says a lot about the character of the people who volunteer," Airman Baggarly said. "No matter the costs, you still do it because someone needs you."

So even if the party themes change from Mardi Gras to Billy Bowlegs or if it's a holiday or regular weekend from work, the volunteers who make up A.A.D.D. will be standing by to keep Airmen safe, but only if they call them first.

If you or anyone you know needs a ride home, please contact A.A.D.D. at 884-8844. For more information about becoming a volunteer, contact your first sergeant or the A.A.D.D. council.