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NEWS | Oct. 9, 2009

Make Good Choices

By Col. Robert Miller 779th Medical Group commander

Much attention of late has been paid by Joint Team Andrews leadership on the dangers of inappropriate alcohol use with a focus on underage drinking. I also realize that some of our servicemembers who live in the dorms may feel they are being unfairly scrutinized regarding alcohol use on base. This if for good reason based on some concerning trends. Comments such as "this is no different from what goes on at any college campus in the U.S., so what's the big deal?" are a common misconception. If you are an Airman who feels unfairly treated by mandatory meetings with leadership or increased patrols around the dorms, let me share some words of wisdom and important lessons ... but to be honest, my comments apply to all Andrews members.

The first is a story from the late Carnegie Mellon University professor, Randy Pausch, who received national attention for "The Last Lecture" given to students and colleagues in September 2007. The story was written while he knew he was dying from pancreatic cancer and wanted to take full advantage of his last opportunity to share what was most important to him. Randy Pausch had a childhood dream of playing in the NFL, which never materialized, however, it did drive him to join a youth football league when he was 11-years-old. He described his head coach, Jim Graham, as a "hulking wall of a guy," who was an old-school former Penn State University linebacker. After being ridden hard by the coach practice after practice, Randy started to feel discouraged and that he could never do anything right. An assistant coach sensed his frustration and shared the following statement. "When you're screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they've given up on you." That's a bad place to be. You may not always want to hear it, but your critics are the ones who care about you. Make no mistake, Joint Team Andrews leadership cares deeply about all Airmen and their families on this base.

Second, the dangers of inappropriate alcohol use are real regardless of your age, rank or position. This impacts all of us, which is why we all need a Wingman. Let me share some basic rules of engagement regarding alcohol use: If you are under 21 years of age, the situation is black and white. It is illegal to drink, and you are held to a higher standard as servicemembers proudly wearing the uniform compared to friends attending colleges across America. If you are of legal age and live in the dorm, know that you are fully responsible for who receives alcohol from you ... so accept responsibility at social functions and be prepared to card before serving. Ignorance is not an excuse. For those who have been around longer like myself, we have all seen stellar careers go down the tubes based on one night of indiscretion. It is always a sad event that leaves people questioning where was the Wingman? The basic premise that "nothing good happens after midnight when alcohol is involved" is proven true time and time again. This brings us back to the title of this article. We are all responsible for "making good choices" knowing full well that our lives and our future may be impacted forever.

As a final plea, I feel strongly as a medic that the 0-0-1-3 policy is effective. Hopefully all are aware that this means: 0 drinks if you are under 21; 0 DUIs; 1 drink per hour; no more than 3 drinks in one night. The push is not for a ban on alcohol. Leadership knows full well that servicemembers over age 21 may choose to enjoy an alcoholic beverage, which is fine if done responsibly following the 0-0-1-3 policy. However, everyone needs a Wingman before heading down this path on a given evening. Ideally, we all will have a Coach Graham looking out for our best interests, even if it is painful at times. If you are a supervisor, hold your people accountable knowing that we can never let our guard down. Be proud to wear the Air Force, Navy, Marine or Army uniform, and let your actions speak loudly regarding the appropriate use of alcohol. Finally, don't forget to "make good choices" as your life or someone you care about may depend on it!