Teamwork: who knew it was so easy

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Suzanne Matthews
  • 319th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
I was 19 when I was stationed at my first base. Being young, my friends and I went out every weekend and, since I was underage, it usually meant I was driving - even if I wasn't going out with them. 

Having dealt with so many bad situations with drinking and driving, I was my flight's own personal Airman Against Drunk Driving. 

Even after I turned 21, I was still volunteering to stay sober to accommodate those who wouldn't. My unit had a rowdy group of guys who really had no abandon for their careers or personal safety who would consistently drive drunk. 

After about two years there, I had a pretty tight-knit group of friends who knew I meant it when I told them to call me, no matter what time, and I would come get them. One person stands out in my mind to this day. 

His name was Eric, and he was one of my closest friends and one of the funniest people I ever met. While he had so many great qualities, he had a terrible one, too ... he constantly drove drunk. Not only did he drive drunk, but he actually liked to drive drunk! Eric was the guy who would wake up after a night of drinking, ask his friends how they got home, only to be met with the answer, "You drove us." 

I quickly became his personal taxi after he heard numerous lectures from me. He'd always joked that when he got a DUI, "it's gonna be a big one" because, to quote him, "I'm way overdue". 

He was right. About two months after I was assigned to a new base, Eric was back to driving drunk. On his way home, he struck and killed a police officer picking up cones from the road. 

Obviously scared, he kept driving and added a hit and run offense to the case. He was caught and arrested. 

I learned all of this through newspaper articles sent to me in Korea by a mutual friend. I was shocked! Even more so, I was shocked that I was shocked at all. 

The officer killed was a young husband and father and ironically, the liaison for the local Mothers Against Drunk Driving Chapter. 

A few years have gone by now, and about three months ago, I decided to see if I could find anything on what happened to Eric. I found all the articles on his arrest and trial. Eric, it turns out, was the first person in the state of California to be charged with murder in a drunk driving case and will be spending the next 30 years in prison, if not more. 

This is very hard to write about, but as I write it, it dawns on me that one person can't do everything ... you can't rely on one person to always be there to drive you home. As soon as I left, he was right back to his old ways, not because of a lack of taxis, just because it was easier to drive drunk. What might have happened if he had about 30 more people to rely on? Might this have never happened? This is the goal of the 319th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. 

Recently, the 319 AMXS assumed all AADD duties. That month, AADD had a total of 30 volunteers, at any time of day, seven days a week, ready to drive home anyone who needed it. This is a sharp contrast and vast improvement to the five people in the wing who are normally performing that duty. After eight months on station here and seven years at three other bases, this is the first squadron I have ever seen do this. It was a great success, and a total of 29 lives were saved. I don't know about you, and pardon my bias, but I can't help but I feel a little inspired by the teamwork displayed. When we recognized a problem, this squadron stood up and did something about it. I can only hope after reading this, other squadrons, or even flights, will feel a little motivation to follow suit. 

When I recently interviewed Lt. Col. Michael O'Connor, former 319th Maintenance Squadron commander, I asked him why he decided to do this. His answer was very simple, "There should never be a time where we don't have the ability to make a save." 

He is absolutely right! 

We are a small and tight-knit community here at Grand Forks, and that makes us family. We need to look out for one another more often. We need to save each other from the dire mistakes I learned from my friend, who will never have the opportunity to rectify what he's done. 

The 101 Critical Days of Summer are here. I put this to every squadron commander, flight chief, shop chief and supervisor. Let's get involved! Let's give our Airmen something more than the requisite slide show and statistics. Let's get out there with them and work together to get through these 101 Critical Days without a DUI and without losing one of our family members. 

Let's show them that, with one ride, they can make a difference! Maybe when more people see how many people out there need a ride, they'll not only be more inclined to volunteer, but they'll call more often with the knowledge they'll always have someone to depend on who will give them a ride. 

On a sidebar, it was noted people were dialing the wrong number. So, I want to remind you that it's 740-AADD, not 747-AADD. Save it in your phone so you'll never misdial. 

One last thing -- I want to talk to the airmen. While I don't advocate underage drinking and I know your supervisors don't, AADD is completely anonymous. AADD does not report who was picked up, ages or what unit you are with. AADD is here to help, and not get airmen in trouble. So please, call AADD when you need a ride -- no matter the circumstances -- and pay them back by volunteering when they need you. Let's see how great we can be when we work together!