Crackdown on DUIs in 31st Fighter Wing
November 2, 2003
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — The “velvet gloves” might not be coming off for good yet, but Brig. Gen. Mike Worden says his command will occasionally be getting tougher on its troops.
Last month, Worden, the commander of the 31st Fighter Wing, launched the Personal Responsibility Condition Program, which assigns conditions for base personnel based on responsible driving.
If there are a certain number of motorists cited for driving under the influence or causing major accidents with injuries within a specified period, measures are taken.
Those measures include prohibiting active-duty personnel from visiting specific clubs off base, restricting access to all clubs around the base or cutting off sales of alcohol on base. And when the condition reaches “RESCON” Charlie, entire squadrons of active-duty personnel might get called to report for duty on a weekend.
“It’ll be painful,” Worden says.
But not as painful as some of the consequences of irresponsible driving that appear to be part of a trend on base, he says.
Since the wing moved to the base in the mid-1990s, almost two dozen people have been killed on the road. The base has averaged about 700 accidents and dozens of DUIs a year in that span.
“One of the toughest things a commander has to do is stand near a grave and talk to Mom and Papa about how someone died,” he said. “Or worse yet, stand near a foreign national grave and talk to a mother about how a drunken American killed her child.”
Worden says “irresponsible driving” at Aviano doesn’t appear to be getting any worse than it has for the last decade. But it’s not getting any better, either.
“One of the first things I did when I learned I was taking command here was to call all the past commanders,” he says. “To a man, they said: ‘I couldn’t put a significant dent into the DUI problem or major accident problem.’”
That’s despite a range of policies over the years, some concentrating on tougher individual punishments and others offering group rewards for good driving.
Worden’s command is still using one of the latter, a program that gives active-duty personnel a day off if there are no DUIs reported in 31 days. But since that program began last November, base personnel have received only a single day off.
Worden says every time a program is launched, it has immediate results. But those results gradually disappear as airmen lose fear of the consequences.
It might be easier to do that in Italy where police don’t patrol and set up checkpoints as frequently as their American counterparts do. So base officials have met with local law enforcement agencies, asking for stepped up patrols and checkpoints.
And they’ve met with bar and club owners, warning them that if they’re found to have been the place where a DUI offender was drinking, they’ll be placed off limits.
“We’ve had to do a lot of behind-the-scenes lobbying and laying the groundwork,” Worden says. That also includes setting up a shuttle service that stops at popular spots and the dorms and re-energizing the local Airmen Against Drunken Driving effort.
Worden says his Personal Responsibility Condition Program was designed on a familiar model.
It carries the same condition levels as those used for force protection.
If there are one or two DUIs or one to three major accidents involving injuries during a sliding 28-day period, the base is under RESCON Alpha. Under that condition, the specific business that sold the alcohol to the airman who received the DUI will be placed off limits for the following weekend and the offender’s chain of command starts taking on extra duties.
As the DUIs or injury accidents increase, so do the RESCON levels and consequences.
Under Delta — four or more DUIs or more than 7 injury accidents — “all local establishments whose primary business is serving alcohol are off limits the next week or more after a DUI,” according to the initiative. Squadrons with offending members are recalled to duty, and on-base alcohol sales are limited or prohibited.
“I hope these will be sufficient deterrents,” Worden says.
Two DUIs last weekend currently have the base at RESCON Charlie. And there’s still a few days left in the initial 28-day period.