WARNER ROBINS -- Drunk driving arrests of Robins Air Force Base airmen are on pace to drop by half this year, but that isn’t good enough for Master Sgt. Tiefton Chatman.
He is president of the Airmen Against Drunk Driving Council, which on Friday and Saturday nights offers free rides to airmen who have had too much to drink.
Now the group is expanding the service to have a team on call around the clock, seven days a week.
And that comes despite the fact that this year, as of Wednesday, there have been just 11 airmen charged on and off base with driving under the influence, compared to 28 in all of 2014. Last year, actually, was a significant improvement over a high of 75 in 2004 when the base began to put a focus on reducing DUIs.
With about 6,000 airmen stationed at Robins, the number this year might seem about as good as can be hoped for, but Chatman thinks it can be better. In fact, his goal this year had been to have 12 DUI arrests or fewer.
“If we can cut it in half this year, that would be a big success, but I would like to see it be even lower,” he said. “I’d like to see it go down to zero.”
Giving rides around the clock, which began Oct. 5, isn’t the only expansion in place. In the past the service was limited to active-duty airmen, but now it is for anyone with base identification, including civilians, contractors and part-time airmen. Volunteers will drive as far as 30 miles to pick someone up.
Also, the base did have separate efforts such as Airmen Against Drunk Driving that gave the rides, and another that focused on anti-DUI education programs. Those two have now been combined to form the Airmen Against Drunk Driving Council.
Anti-DUI programs have been held regularly, including a mock funeral of a DUI victim. The Houston County Sheriff’s Office also has a program for airmen that features actual photos, some graphic, of fatal DUI-related accidents that happened in the county.
“It was a very compelling program that got the message across,” Chatman said.
Cpl. Justin Hall, assistant commander of the sheriff’s office traffic division, said he conducts similar programs for several different groups. He tailored the base program, he said, to focus on the consequences of DUI.
That includes money spent in fines and other costs, the emotional toll, the potential for injury and the possibility of an airman getting kicked out of the Air Force and losing retirement benefits. Hall makes the point that whatever inconvenience there may be from waiting on a ride or going back the next day to get the car is a small consideration compared to what could result from driving drunk.
“The very first year we did the program out at the base, in the following six months they didn’t have a single airman charged with DUI,” Hall said. “We believe the program significantly reduces it. We explain to them that really there’s nothing fun or cool or good that’s going to come from getting behind the wheel when you are intoxicated.”
Chatman said he’s interested in hearing from people who might like to participate in anti-DUI programs. That could include people who have lost a loved one as a result of a DUI or people who have received a DUI and could talk about the consequences. He can be reached at 478-209-8168.
Chatman said around-the-clock rides have been provided in the past, but that stopped due to a lack of volunteers. The difference this time is that rather than signing up individual volunteers to be on standby, entire units are involved. Each week, a different unit is on standby so it offers a greater chance of having someone available to give a ride, Chatman said.
In 2014, the group answered 105 calls, giving rides to 234 airmen. This year it has answered 85 calls, with rides given to 197 people.
Anyone with base identification who is in need of a ride after becoming intoxicated can call 478-222-0013.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.