AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — A day off was on the line for all 8,700 members of the 31st Fighter Wing.

They had to go 31 days without anyone getting busted for drunken driving.

Just one more day would do it. The ZFM morning show was doing a radiothon to count down the final hours.

But a guy in Darby got nabbed driving the short distance to his home.

Driving under the influence of alcohol by servicemembers is a big enough problem in Aviano that the wing commander has set a goal: Go 31 days without an arrest and the 31st Fighter Wing gets a day off.

“The facts scream out at you,” Brig. Gen. R. Mike Worden said. “We have a major challenge here. If I can provide an incentive that will keep a few more folks alive, including the Italian residents, and keep folks from getting hurt, if we can get a culture where 31 days [without a DUI] is no sweat, then I might ease back on it.”

Easier said than done.

Servicemembers have a lot of chances to party in northern Italy — at beaches an hour’s drive away, at local clubs, such as the California Beach Parlor and Boobies, and at parties on and off base.

Thirty-seven wing members have been arrested for DUI since November, when Worden and wing members started emphasizing ways to cut down on the problem.

The Airmen Against Drunken Driving, or AADD, program was revived, where someone who’s been drinking can phone a volunteer or their commanding officer for a ride home without getting in trouble. The “31 days” program was formed.

Some wonder why it’s necessary.

“It’s sad they can take the responsibility to fight for their country but can’t call AADD for a ride home,” said Senior Airman Heather Weingarten of the 31st Medical Support Squadron. “We have great programs here. They are constantly advertising them.

“It’s pretty sad when you have to tempt them with a day off to get people to not drink and drive.”

The local radio station is on board.

Airman 1st Class Nicholas Kurtz, an announcer for the local American Forces Network and president of the local AADD, said, “The only way to combat it is personal responsibility,” and also by using ways to get a free ride.

“We try to make it as laid-back and easy as possible to get home,” Kurtz said.

In February, the wing actually made it one month without a DUI. Then, Kurtz said, the arrests seemed to spike in March and April.

The deterrents — losing a rank, losing pay, losing respect, Kurtz said, sometimes aren’t enough.

Northern Italy presents its own challenges for drivers who have been drinking.

The legal blood-alcohol level is .05 percent, compared with .08 or .10 in most of the United States. The Carbinieri — the Italian national police — can pull over anyone without cause.

Many roads here are centuries-old paths that have been paved over. They have blind corners and drainage ditches for shoulders.

“There are little ditches flipping cars all the time,” Worden, the wing commander, said.

On another time, the wing got up past 20 days without a DUI, Worden said, when an airman who thought he’d slept off some drinks got arrested while driving to pick up friends at the beach the next day.

“About 90 percent of [DUI offenders] thought they were sober enough to drive,” said Staff Sgt. Steven Doll of the 31st Security Forces Squadron, who has been a military police officer for 11 years.

Worden said he’d consider the “31 days” effort a success when it becomes second-nature for servicemembers to refrain from drinking and driving and instead make other arrangements to get home.

In the meantime, wing members will be pressured to not let everyone else down for 31 days in a row.

“Everybody was pretty much upset,” said Staff Sgt. Cuthbert Casimir of the 31st Civil Engineering Squadron, when the wing recently made it to 30 days before someone was picked up.

“I wouldn’t want to be the person who got the DUI. When everybody else is sacrificing, it’s kind of frustrating.”

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