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101 CDOS Week 1: Drinking and driving

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- It was a sunny, cool, autumn day in Lawton, Oklahoma. I was 16 years old pimping in my beige 1981 Datsun 210 - with the dark brown fur seat covers - hey, it was the 80's.

Attempting to show off to my girlfriend and buddies, I peeled out of the Eisenhower High School parking lot - and then was promptly pulled over for speeding 10 mph over the limit (in a school zone, no less). Right in front of the school - everyone was driving and walking by. I had my driver's license for exactly nine days. Of course, the worst part was dreading the delivery of this news to my father, an Airborne Infantry Platoon Sergeant.

Visions of punishment scenarios filled my head: would I lose my car, lose my license, be grounded for a month, get shackled outside with no food or water for weeks; how bad was it really going to be? The moment finally arrives. I tell him. I expect the wrath of hell to fall upon me. My father doesn't even look up from his newspaper and calmly states: "Heck of a way to spend your money".

If only all of life's consequences could be so light.

Not so for Jacqueline Saburido. She was taking a break from college and industrial engineering classes when she came to the United States from Venezuela to study English.

September 19, 1999 she and four friends were on their way home from a birthday party. Reggie Stephey, an 18-year old football star was on his way home after drinking beer with his buddies. On a dark road on the outskirts of Austin, Texas, Reggie's SUV veered into the Oldsmobile carrying Jacqui and the others.

Two of Jacqui's friends were instantly killed and two others were quickly rescued from the burning vehicle. Jacqui, however, was pinned in the front passenger seat and was burned over 60 percent of her body. Her hands were so badly burned that all of her fingers had to be amputated. She lost her hair, her ears, her nose, her left eye and much of her vision.

Jacqui has had more than 50 operations over the span of a decade. Consequences, indeed. About 12,000 Americans die every year in DUI-related accidents and 900,000 are arrested for DUI/DWI - a full one-third are repeat offenders.

The Air Force lost 21 Airmen in fatal mishaps during the summer of 2009. Alcohol was involved in one-third of those fatalities.

May 28 officially kicked off the United States Air Force Critical Days of Summer campaign, which runs until Labor Day in September.

Every year, approximately 50 Air Force members are killed in private motor vehicle accidents. Over the past ten years, more than 680 USAF personnel have been lost in ground accidents. By way of comparison, 114 USAF personnel have died in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also noteworthy, only 64 of those combat casualties were from hostile fire - the other 50 were from non-hostile incidents and accidents.

So, USAF members are ten times more likely to die in an accident than in combat.

The Bottom Line: PMV mishaps are by and far the NUMBER ONE killer of USAF personnel.

Furthermore, the majority of fatal USAF mishaps every year occur in the summer months from Jun - Sep and in the 18-25 age year group. More than 70 percent of summer related fatalities involve reckless behavior.

The goal of this year's CDS campaign is ZERO preventable mishaps. But, here's the challenge. How does one influence people who think either a) they are young and invincible or b) it can't or won't happen to them? How do you get their attention? How do you relate them to abstract topics such as 'Operational Risk Assessment', 'Wingman Concept', 'Reckless Behavior', and 'Mishap Prevention'? How do you cement them into the concrete of life made from the blood, tears, and anguish of broken hearts and shattered lives?

Please help us accomplish the objective of ZERO preventable mishaps by exercising good judgment. Enjoy the Alaskan summer with family, friends, and fellow Airmen. As you do, please consider the following: reject reckless behavior, use the right equipment, and remember that everything has a consequence - good or bad.

Everyone has a role to play. Look out for each other and be vigilant. It took exactly one second for Jacqueline Saburido's life to change forever - because one man did not think before he acted and didn't have a plan. It CAN happen to you. What will you do to prevent it?