No booze? Aviano leaders consider alcohol ban after rash of DUIs

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An electronic sign displays a drinking-and-driving slogan near the flight line gate at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The 31st Fighter Wing commander conducted two sessions with airmen on April 22, 2015 to address a recent string of DUIs in the last 60 days. (Jason Duhr/Stars and Stripes)
From Stripes.com
An electronic sign displays a drinking-and-driving slogan near the flight line gate at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The 31st Fighter Wing commander conducted two sessions with airmen on April 22, 2015 to address a recent string of DUIs in the last 60 days. (Jason Duhr/Stars and Stripes)

No booze? Aviano leaders consider alcohol ban after rash of DUIs

by: Jason Duhr | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: April 23, 2015

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — To combat a recent spate of drunken-driving incidents, Aviano Air Base will attempt to raise servicemembers’ awareness about alcohol abuse rather than implement a basewide ban on drinking, Brig. Gen. Barre R. Seguin, 31st Fighter Wing commander, said during a commander’s call Wednesday that was closed to media.

Four DUIs involving Aviano-based servicemembers since Feb. 28 resulted in the wing’s implementation of a DUI battle plan condition red, which could have led to general order banning all alcohol consumption on and off base.

The awareness-raising effort aims to encourage individuals to take responsibility for their actions and to ensure that the leadership remains active and vigilant, said Capt. Michael Hertzog, a wing public affairs officer.

“Having a plan in place lets our people know we’re concerned about this behavior, and we want to take a very focused and really planned approach in preventing and eliminating this from occurring again,” said Chief Master Sgt. Anthony W. Johnson, 31st Fighter Wing command chief.

The plan is used to drive awareness and discussion, Johnson said. One of the tools employed is Airmen Against Drunk Driving, whose weekend volunteers assist airmen who might need a ride home after a night on the town.

But “there’s still a need for individuals to step up and volunteer,” Hertzog said.

Sequin has so far conducted two mandatory sessions with base airmen base to discuss the DUIs.

“I think it’s wise not to implement General Order No. 1 yet only because we’ve had so many [DUIs] in such a short amount of time, but it doesn’t mean that people can’t be responsible,” 1st Lt. Glynnis Davis said after the commander’s call ended.

Seguin praised the majority of the base’s population for doing the right thing, noting that only a select few had hit bumps in the road, Hertzog said.

Before the first DUI, the base had not had a drunken driving incident since Oct. 7, 2014. The base had 12 confirmed DUIs in 2014, far fewer than in previous years.

In 2013, there were 22, and in 2012 there were 38, according to information from the 31st Fighter Wing.

Johnson said Seguin decided to conduct the commander’s call to drive home the connections each individual has had with DUI incidents.

Of some 1,000 airmen who attended the morning session of Wednesday’s commander’s call, almost half raised their hands when Seguin asked whether anyone had been affected by a DUI, Hertzog said.

One such connection was made in a video in which the mother of late Airman 1st Class Dennis A. Felton II spoke about her son. Felton died just outside Aviano Air Base in June 2013 while riding as a passenger with Airman Demarrius R. Jeffers. Jeffers pleaded guilty to drunken driving and involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to two years and six months in prison.

“I think the plan is a good start, but I think one DUI is one too many and can impact careers, impact lives and impact families,” said Master Sgt. Jesus Antillon, Operations Group first sergeant. In talking about what his family means to him, Seguin said he would sacrifice his life in a situation where airmen were at risk, Hertzog said.

Other leaders within Europe have also taken up trusting their airman to do the right thing and uphold core values.

In August of 2014, the 86th Airlift Wing command team lifted a 17-month ban on alcohol possession and consumption in and around the dormitories at Ramstein Air base.

“I’m a firm believer in treating airmen like airmen, treating them like professionals, holding them to a standard,” Brig. Gen Patrick X. Mordente, said at the time in an interview with Stars and Stripes.

The 31st Fighter Wing leadership isn’t against implementing a basewide ban if the conditions require it, Johnson said.

duhr.jason@stripes.com

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