Leadership Lessons - Time for Change?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. James Slade
  • 69th Reconnaissance Group superintendent
I was asked to provide a leadership prospective to publish on the base web site. I almost immediately drew a blank as to what I could possibly write about. I thought about it unsuccessfully for a week or so while I read some previous articles for some inspiration. Then I asked myself, "Why am I thinking about this so hard when we at Grand Forks have a legitimate issue that requires immediate attention?" So, I'm just going to write from the heart on this one and the subject is very relevant to a current issue affecting our base and community.

I'm very troubled, as I'm sure the rest of the base populace is, regarding the problem of DUIs we are having. We have been averaging one just about every two weeks the past couple of months. Now, I'm a person who believes mistakes can sometimes happen; some mistakes can even help us to grow and improve as Airmen. While I was coming up through the ranks, I made plenty of mistakes which, in the overall scheme of things, made me a better person and Airman. However, a DUI charge is not a mistake. It's a crime!
I haven't yet seen us, as a base populace, learn from these recent DUIs. Our base leadership has been pleading to all Airmen (capital A, for everyone) not to drink and drive. Have a plan when you go out, be a good wingman, use AADD, ensure MyMC2 is loaded on your phone, etc. Most personnel get it, but there are a few who just don't seem to believe it will happen to them, and maybe some just think they're invincible. I'm not sure what it is, but it has to STOP!

The Chiefs and Shirts were called together for another meeting to discuss the DUI problem after this latest incident. What do we do about it? How do we fix it? How can we prevent it? The problem was pointed out to be a possible failure of leadership. Maybe to a point yes, we can probably do better to take care of our family as 319th Air Base Wing Commander Col. Paul Bauman often refers to us. I absolutely agree with him that we are a family. Whether officer, enlisted, young or a little older in age, we are a part of this unique and wonderful Air Force family. We need to look after one another no matter what unit or major command an Airman belongs to as we all proudly wear the same uniform.

We are all here in this voluntary force because we want to be. No one was drafted into the Air Force; we all took an oath of service to live by a set of military rules and standards and follow guidance such as the little blue book, AFI 1-1, Air Force Culture or the little brown book, AFI 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure. These instructions provide guidance for us and set standards that far exceed the civilian community and what makes us unique and special to be a member of the world's greatest Air Force and United States Military. AFI 1-1, states "you must live by rules and standards that are often more restrictive than those found in civilian life." In addition, AFI 1-1 states, "consequently, members who will not do their best to meet these high standards detract from the mission and, in compliance with the UCMJ and Air Force instructions, will not be retained in the Air Force." The little brown book states from junior to senior enlisted Airmen to "detect and correct conduct and behavior that may place themselves or others at risk." Also, it states, "be alert for signs of substance abuse in yourself and others. Substance abuse not only involves the use of illegal drugs, but more commonly, involves excessive or irresponsible consumption of alcohol..."

So how do we fix the DUI problem? I'm sure it may never be fully fixed. However, one possible answer to the question is for the military to take a different perspective on the situation, such as adding a "zero-tolerance" policy to the UCMJ for DUIs. Let's not punish everyone for a member's personal decision to drive while under the influence. Some of those who have faced DUI charges have made statements such as, "I didn't have a plan. I didn't think I was that drunk. I didn't think it could happen to me." I do feel for these Airmen as my brothers and sisters, but it was their choice to get behind the wheel. AFI 1-1 states "you are responsible for exercising good judgment in the use of alcohol." Also "Your use of alcohol must not adversely affect your duty performance or your conduct on or off-duty..."

Now, I understand a "zero-tolerance" policy to DUIs view might be extreme to most, but the current discipline and punishments, as varied as they are throughout the units on base, don't seem to be having the deterrent effect they should. Since we continue to have Airmen drive under the influence of alcohol, it appears to me that some Airmen think there is nothing that can be done to them to sway their decision to drink and drive. Thankfully, no one has been injured or killed! But it's only a matter of time before our luck runs out.

I think most would agree that taking the chance to drive under the influence is an extremely bad one and entirely not worth the risk. One could look at driving under the influence, getting into an accident and killing an innocent individual or family to be just as bad as taking a gun to the innocent individual or family and killing them that way. It's all homicide or vehicular manslaughter in the case of DUIs, crimes either way. Driving under the influence shouldn't be a chance anyone is willing to take. However, if a member chooses to take that chance and gets caught, whether or not there is an injury or death, DUIs in the military might need to be looked at as a "zero-tolerance" policy and the member discharged just like other crimes of "zero tolerance."

Please, let's learn from these crimes that have been committed, and let's do the right thing from here on out. PLEASE DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE!! I'm proud to serve with you all as a member of our Air Force family. "One Team!...One Fight!"