Good time isn’t worth risking bright future

  • Published
  • By Col. Richard Klumpp Jr.
  • 71st Flying Training Wing commander
It's time for those of you who like to party hard and "push it up" during your off-duty time to take a hard look at your lifestyle. We've had 9 alcohol-related incidents in the last four months here at Vance AFB. Almost without exception, they involve members who are under the age of 30 and, almost without exception, they call the incident a "life-changing experience." The article below is a true life-changing experience, because this young man cost his wife her life. It's time for you to have a life-changing experience at someone else's expense--learn the lesson by their mistake, whether it's Scott Willeke or one of the other members at Vance who have allowed alcohol to take control, even if for just one night.
Col. Rod Gillis (71st FTW vice commander) introduced an article about working hard and playing smart a couple of weeks ago, and within a week we had two more incidents--another DUI and a public intoxication. Don't think that just because you have a plan when you begin the night that you will be exempt from a potential incident. Eight of the nine incidents were the result of having a plan and not executing it fully.

Here's the bottom line: When you drink hard, and I'm defining drinking hard as going past your third drink, you start to lose your ability to make smart decisions. You may think you're still in control, but you're not. You're now relying on luck--will I be lucky enough to make it into that cab ride home; will I be lucky enough to not get into a fight; will I be lucky enough to not make an inappropriate sexual advance on that pretty girl; will I be lucky enough to not kill someone or be killed as I drive myself home?

There's a reason that alcohol-related incidents are more likely to happen to our younger members. As you get older, you learn these no longer feel 10 feet tall and bullet proof. You also learn to resist peer pressure. Just because your buddies drink hard, doesn't mean you need to. There's nothing cool about being stinking drunk and there's definitely nothing cool about DUI or public intoxication.

You are in control of your own destiny...until you allow the alcohol to rob you of that control. Let this be your life-changing experience. Drink in moderation or not at all. All of you have a bright future. Don't throw it all away in search of a "good time."

       I Threw It All Away 
       by Scott A. S. Willeke, former USAF member

April 20, 1994, was my wife's 25th birthday, but it passed without a celebration. It's not that I don't love my wife; I killed her by driving drunk.

I'm writing this story from my jail cell. Besides the devastation of losing my wife, I was court-martialed. I received a bad-conduct discharge, one year of confinement, forfeiture of $550 a month for 12 months, and a reduction in grade to airman basic.

Like many couples, we had a promising future. We had a beautiful marriage and satisfying jobs at Misawa Air Base, Japan. I had been selected for promotion to staff sergeant and was scheduled to participate in the annual Gunsmoke competition. [The Gunsmoke competition tests fighter and bomber aircrews on their ability to strike targets while facing simulated ground-to-air and air-to-air threats.-Ed.]

Though we had been married slightly more than a year, we had traveled to places others only dream about. We looked forward to a life in the Air Force and all the benefits that accompany it. However, on Nov. 7, 1993, I threw it all away.

I decided to drive my wife home after a night of drinking and dancing. "I'm not drunk" I thought, as I reveled in the bottle of wine, a couple of beers, and a soju-based mixed drink I had consumed the previous four hours. In reality, though, I was drunk-I had exceeded my limit.

On the way home, I foolishly tried to keep up with a friend who was speeding in another car. I lost control in a curve I knew like the back of my hand. My vehicle slammed into a concrete utility pole, completely demolishing the passenger side and ripping my wife from the front seat. She was thrown headfirst into the concrete pole.

Who was I to have played God with her life and the lives of others? She didn't deserve to die that way-no one does. If you ever had met my wife, you would have known she was full of life and happiness. She seldom was seen without a beautiful smile, but now, no one ever will see her smile again.

If there's a lesson to be learned from this tragedy, it's this: Driving requires your best judgment and reflexes, so don't drink and drive because you'll eventually get caught. If you're lucky, you'll only have to pay a fine or have your driving privileges revoked. However, there's a good possibility you may end up like me-a convicted felon with an uncertain future.

My wife is dead and so is my career. It virtually will be impossible for me to find meaningful employment and obtain credit after my release from jail. On the balance, my sentence is a small price to pay for the lives I destroyed.

Unfortunately, my wife never had a say in what happened, and she paid the ultimate price for my crime. For those of you who would shrug off this article and say, "It won't happen to me," I beg to differ.

Reprinted courtesy of the April 2002 issue of The Combat Edge, published by Air Combat Command, HQ ACC/SEM, Langley AFB, Va.