Tragic lesson taken to heart

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- "Take a good look, guys! This could be you if you don't learn from my son." I can still recall those words as if I heard them just a few moments ago. They were spoken by a father as he stood looking into the casket of his 21 year old son. Bart was killed in a drunken driving accident. He was my friend. We had just graduated from college a month before and were on the swim team together.

My swimming coach called with the news of his death and the funeral service details. Bart and another friend were on their way home from a bar when the accident happened. Bart was killed and the driver sustained minor injuries. Although Bart was not driving, he was still responsible for letting his friend drive while intoxicated.
At the funeral reception, I recall the mother of the driver apologizing time and again to Bart's mother for her son's poor judgment. Bart's mother assured her that the situation could easily have been reversed and that no amount of blame would bring her son back.

That was the summer of 1987. The Mothers Against Drunk Driving organization was just seven years old. Society was beginning to take a hard look at drinking and driving as a tragic crime that needed to stop.

Now more than 20 years later during National Drunk/Drugged Driving Prevention Month, I wonder how much progress we've actually made. While drinking and driving affects all ages, it seems each new generation has to learn the lesson the hard way. Even though Air Force bases around the world, including Eielson, maintain vigilance against drunk driving, we still have too many statistics. The Eielson DWI goal day calendar gets reset all too often.

On a positive note, we do have reason to praise our Airman Against Drunk Driving program. Thank you to the volunteers who keep the program going and the individuals who make the smart choice to use the program. Many units and base leaders provide additional numbers to their Airmen to call before getting behind the wheel after drinking. The right options are available. There are no excuses.

Bart's tragic lesson reminds us again this holiday season and at all times to make smart choices. The lesson is simple: don't drink and drive. Why is this so hard to learn? I repeat. Do not drink and drive. Do not let others drink and drive. Please learn this lesson before it is too late. I personally know a father who wished his son had.