Airmen donate time, gas to reduce drunk driving in Japan
Stars and Stripes August 15, 2009
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — So I was walking down the street late last Saturday night, checking out the bar scene with some friends, when I uttered the following: "Dude, did anyone else just see two gorillas walk around that corner?"
Mentally calculating how much beer I’d already consumed, I was glad to know I wasn’t the only one who spotted the gorillas, clad in shorts.
After posing for pictures, they explained that they were offering free rides to help keep people from drinking and driving.
They said they would even provide free daiko — the Japanese word used to describe a service in which you drive the drunken person’s car home.
In an interview later in the week — sans gorilla costumes — the 35th Maintenance Squadron airmen behind the volunteer effort explained why they decided on the project.
They’re all members of the squadron’s "Accessories Flight."
They said that after 35th Fighter Wing commander Col. David Stilwell aired a special TV and radio broadcast in mid-July to warn the community about a recent spike in alcohol-related incidents, they gathered to talk about what they could do.
"We wanted to perform a nice service for the community and also have a little fun ourselves," said Staff Sgt. John Rorie, who came up with the idea of the costumes. "Basically to grab everyone’s attention."
They ordered the costumes — two gorilla suits and one giant banana suit — and printed a batch of fliers announcing Monkeys Against Drunk Driving. They hit the bars Aug. 1, handing out the fliers and making sure people knew they would offer the free service on Aug. 8.
Between 10 p.m. and 4:30 a.m., they safely transported 76 people to their homes — people who could have gotten behind the wheel of a car or gotten into trouble walking home.
Tech. Sgt. Michael Dlugiewicz, Rorie’s supervisor and a volunteer driver that night, said he thinks they made a difference.
"A couple of people had walked past their cars a couple times like they were thinking about driving, and they saw us just sitting there," he said. They ended up in his car instead.
Flight chief Senior Master Sgt. Steven Tuggle lauded his troops for their "self-initiated" action, pointing out that they bought the costumes themselves and used their own cars and gas money, not to mention giving up their free time.
Given the seriousness of the drinking and driving problem — with members of his own squadron as well as other squadrons — the volunteer project is important, he said.
"These guys are actually going to the customer and handing out the fliers, and what better way than dressed up as a primate from the zoo," Tuggle said.
Stilwell said he appreciates Misawa airmen looking for ways to solve the problem.
"It’s proof again that the best ideas come from the people closest to the subject," he wrote in an e-mail to Stripes late Thursday.
"Like Patton said — never tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and they’ll surprise you with their ingenuity."
Rorie said they’d like to recruit enough volunteers to run the service every weekend, but with only nine people, they have to limit it to once a month for now.
However, they plan on getting in one more night, Aug. 22, before an upcoming exercise.
They’re also hoping that other flights or squadrons see what they’ve done and take the challenge of developing their own programs.