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Take a stand!

  • Published
  • By Col. Rob Rocco
  • 6th Medical Group commander
Every day, I pick up a newspaper or see an account of an American being celebrated for taking a stand. For some, the stand was for faith, for others, against injustice. For some, the stand was to defend freedom, for others to defend rights--even when the defense of those rights was not always clear to all segments of our society. I admire fellow leaders who took stands in support of doing what was right--even at the potential loss of their careers--especially when doing nothing or protecting the status quo was easiest.

Lately, I have come to respect a new group of people who are taking a stand. On the surface, there isn't anything particularly special about them. Some are my age, some my daughter's age and some, like my son, are getting close to a time when taking this stand can mean the difference between life an death. These people who are taking a stand, are not all men or all women, not tall or short, maybe spiritual or maybe not. What they are, is a group of fellow citizens-Airmen or otherwise-who have taken a firm stand against misusing alcohol!

For the past year, hardly a week has gone by without a teammate on base or off earning a DUI. Each one triggers a painful chain of events, embarrasses a person and demoralizes a unit! And each reminds me of why I chose to take a stand.

Many years ago, a few days before I left for the Air Force, a close friend--returning from my going away party--got a DUI on a stretch of road that only seconds before I too was driving on. As I prepared to leave for my future, his parents were bailing him out of jail and while we've remained close to this day (and he has recovered) I've often wondered how my life would have turned out if I was the one arrested.

First, my Air Force career--something I'd dreamed about since I was 7 years old--would have been over before it even started Who wants a drunk officer anyway? I had an undergraduate teaching degree, but that would have meant nothing--who would hire a teacher with a DUI conviction? How would I have looked my parents in the eye and asked them to let me stay in my old room (in a house they had planned to sell). At the time, I was single--would a girl have given me the time of day if she knew I was DUI unemployable? How could I explain to her the selfishness of driving impaired and how my indiscretion put so many others on the road that night in danger? Worst of all, how would I feel today if I had caused an accident that injured or killed someone? What would it have felt like to be charged with manslaughter because I was too lazy to call for a cab, take the train, or toss the keys to one of my buddies--one of my buddies who didn't drink that night.

Financially, I was lucky that night. My Buddy though--the one who got the DUI--shared with me what happened to him. For the next 15 years, he estimated that the DUI cost him more than $50,000. Not just increased car insurance expenses, but also lost employment opportunities from companies who simply wouldn't hire people with a DUI conviction. Fortunately, he became a rather successful business man and almost put this behind him when one evening, he and his then teenage son had a very painful talk about the impact alcohol could have on a budding career. "Roc," he said, "I have never been more embarrassed than the night I sat at the kitchen table and explained to my son, that dad once got a DUI."

Still, he got off easy. According to the Department of Transportation, every 15 minutes in this country, someone is killed or paralyzed because someone else didn't get the message: Alcohol plus Motor Vehicle plus stupidity equals nightmare!

For 26 years now, American leaders have told me that we are the very best, and the very brightest. Teammates, start proving it! Have the guts to do what is right. Have the guts to finally stop kidding yourself that no matter how much or how little you drink that getting behind the wheel is never, ever the answer. Have the guts to wait at least 12 hours and if you drank more than two drinks, wait a few more hours before you even think of driving! Have the courage to stop blaming the job, your spouse, your stress, your children, your parents, your boss or other factors in your life on why YOU elected to break the law and drive impaired. Yes, our business is a challenging one. But alcohol excess, a depressant I remind you, is simply not the answer.

The answer is simple: Please have the guts to take a stand against the misuse of alcohol; a stand against driving impaired; a stand against stupidity and a stand to do what is right! If we all take a stand, together, we can finally lick the DUI problem and focus on our jobs, our families, our futures and our lives!