By Ashley Palacios
JBSA-Randolph Public Affairs
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — The holidays are a time when friends and family gather together and express gratitude for all they have. It’s a time of food, fun and togetherness.
In an instant, however, one bad decision can take all of that away.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 10,265 people across the United States died in 2015 due to alcohol-related accidents.
In 2014, Senior Airman Heath Conde, 902nd Security Forces Squadron police services NCO in charge, received news that two of his friends made a single decision that would change their lives and the lives of their community forever.
Dave and John, 21 and 22 years-old, respectively, went out, had a few drinks and then decided to drive themselves back home. They both fell asleep and their car hit a tree. John, who was in the passenger’s seat, died on impact while Dave, who was driving, spent several days in the hospital recovering from the accident.
After seeing what happened when his friends chose to drink and drive, Conde does what he can to ensure no one he knows does the same.
“My friend Dave has been filled with regret ever since that day,” Conde said. “He suffered from depression for a long time afterwards. He doesn’t smile as much anymore and he seems more timid, almost afraid, most of the time. He’s finally getting better but he’s still not the same person he once was.”
Conde said John’s family is still mourning their loss. Likewise, the accident deeply affected Conde and his entire community. The accident reinforced his stance against drinking and driving, especially as a member of security forces. It brought the message closer to home and made him realize the very real consequences of drinking and driving.
“We all learned a powerful lesson that day, but it came at a very high price,” Conde said.
Now when he’s around people who are drinking, Conde takes away their keys or makes sure they get a safe ride home. With so many readily available methods to get a safe ride home, such as Uber, Lyft or Armed Forces Against Drunk Driving, Conde believes there’s really no excuse to drive home drunk.
“I think the reasons most people drink and drive are because they don’t want to leave their car parked somewhere overnight, they want to look cool in front of their friends or because they feel fine until they’re behind the wheel,” Conde said. “All these things, however, can be addressed by having a plan beforehand.”
Choosing to drink and drive can affect a service member’s life in so many ways. Rank can be taken away, career and finances could be ruined, relationships could be damaged, or worse, someone could be killed.
“How would you live with yourself if you killed someone’s child?” Conde asked.
While most drinking and driving warnings are geared toward younger Airmen, Conde has a reminder for service members of all ages.
“It’s easy to get complacent the older you get,” Conde said. “You think you won’t make the same bad decisions as someone who’s younger, but whether you’re 18 or 45, you’re still susceptible to making a bad decision.
“No one is invincible,” Conde continued. “Drinking and driving is not something that happens to only certain people. It can happen to anyone at any time. You can be a good person but still make a bad decision.”
Service members should always have a plan in place before going out. Military members who need a safe and confidential ride home can call Armed Forces Against Drunk Driving at 210-710-7171 between 10 p.m. and 2:15 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
(Editor’s Note: The names of the driver and passenger involved in the accident have been changed to protect their identity.)