DUI Stories Ep. 1: ‘The enduring scars of a single, fateful decision’

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Steven Decker
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013 promised to be a day of celebration.

I was on leave back in my hometown, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, and was excited about the day I had planned with close childhood friends—a late breakfast and the vibrant chaos of the annual Mardi Gras parade in Soulard.

The previous year had been grueling, and I was ready to enjoy the fruits of my labor. While I was stationed in Korea, I juggled double the amount of college courses and daily job duties, finally earning my bachelor’s degree. The accolades piled on: a Below the Zone and Staff Sergeant promotion the first year I was eligible. I also had dedicated mentors who lent their expertise and knowledge to helping me build my package for Officer Training School. I was riding high on my success.

I felt like the sky was the limit, and that I was untouchable at times. Rules, who needed those? I thought, “It only matters if you get caught.” These were the cornerstones of my arrogant mindset. That Sunday afternoon, my friends arrived at my parent’s house—where I was staying while on leave—in a 2005 Quad Cab Dodge Ram truck. With our designated driver at the wheel, we eagerly set
off for the Mardi Gras parade.

Hours passed of us enjoying the festivities with food, laughter and bar hopping until it was time to go home.

In an intoxicated haze, I watched my friends leave my parents’ driveway and walked inside, falling asleep on the living room couch within minutes. I spent the next few hours asleep and woke up to my stomach grumbling from hunger.

Still inebriated, I grabbed my parents’ car keys from the kitchen counter with the promise of a quick trip for fast food clouding my judgment.

Behind the wheel, I thought to myself: Am I ok to drive? Of course I was ok to drive; I hadn’t had a beer for a few hours. I felt “fine.” I arrogantly dismissed the fleeting thoughts and pulled into the dark road.

Mere minutes into driving, red and blue flashing lights appeared in my rearview mirror. I slowed down and slowly pulled towards the shoulder of the road genuinely confused on what infraction I could have possibly committed. I was confident in my innocence.

The officer approached the window of the truck and asked if I had anything to drink. I jokingly informed him that I had “a couple of beers” with my friends earlier in the day. Unamused, he asked for my license and registration, and proceeded to the patrol car.

Minutes stretched into eternity and a second patrol car arrived on scene, casting shadows of doubt on my delusions.

The doors on the second patrol car opened simultaneously, and two police officers began approaching me as I sat in the driver’s seat of the truck. In an instant, I was performing a series of sobriety tests. After I completed the tests, they allowed me to return to the driver’s seat of the truck. I sat nervously, still
believing that this was all a silly misunderstanding, and that I would be on my way in no time.

Both officers approached the truck again, this time demanding that I step out of the truck and place my hands on the hood.

This is the point where sh-t got real, really fast.

The sobriety tests, the handcuffs, the chilling recitation of Miranda Rights—all served as a sobering reminder that no one is immune to the consequences of reckless decisions.

In the confines of the police car, the gravity of my decision crashed down upon me, overshadowing the accomplishments I worked so hard for. My dream of becoming an officer was now a distant memory.

The repercussions reverberated through every facet of my life. A Letter of Reprimand tarnished my military record, my driving privileges revoked, and finances drained by thousands of dollars in legal fees. Social circles fractured, trust eroded, and opportunities gone by the permanent stain of my decision.

I had to use leave to return home and attend a two-day driver’s education course and a victim’s impact panel. As I listened to the heart-wrenching testimony of a mother who had lost her child to a drunk driver, I came face to face with the irrevocable damage of drunk driving.

I spent the next few years trying to claw my way out. Every promotion, every accolade was overshadowed by my past, a constant reminder of the price paid for arrogance and recklessness.

It took me years of a spotless record to somewhat shake the stigma.

If I could turn back time, I would heed the warning echoing through the waves of my regret: No one is above the rules.

The thrill of recklessness pales in comparison to the consequences I still face today.

To those who believe themselves immune to the consequences of drinking and driving: Don’t do it.

Take the cab. Call the friend. Wait until the next day.

The price of arrogance is steep, and the road to ruin is paved with good intentions.