Story and photos by Rick Emert
Two smashed cars sat at the corner of Wetzel and Mister streets Friday morning. Three of the four people involved in the crash were “unconscious” and “critically injured.” An overturned child car seat lay a few feet away from one of the cars. Beer cans littered the road, and the only uninjured person involved was the “drunk” driver who caused the accident.
Moments after a call to a 911 dispatcher, military and Department of the Army civilian police officers were at the scene, followed by two fire trucks and ambulances.
The other driver was pronounced “dead” at the scene, and the “drunk” driver’s passenger died at the hospital.
After failing a field sobriety test, the drunk driver was arrested and taken away in handcuffs.
Although the accident looked incredibly real, it was staged by the Every
15 Minutes program of Colorado Springs in conjunction with the Army Substance Abuse Program and Fort Carson Directorate of Emergency Services at the request of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.
“Our unit has recently come back from Korea, and in Korea a lot of our young Soldiers didn’t have vehicles. Coming to Fort Carson now, there’s a lot more freedom,” said Lt. Col. Michael Hosie, battalion commander, 1st Bn.,
2nd Avn. Reg. “There’s a great opportunity to go down in Colorado Springs and go out to the bars and have a good time.”
The unit has conducted a series of classes, and the mock drunk-driving accident was the final piece of training designed to give Soldiers a realistic look at what can happen when people drink and drive.
“Our hope is that the message gets across that you might not just get a (ticket), you might kill somebody,” said Edgardo
A. Menjivar, prevention coordinator, Army Substance Abuse Program. “You might kill somebody that you know – a friend, a neighbor or a child, and that’s what we’re trying to make them aware of. Your career you can get back; money you can get back. The person you kill is not coming back.”
The Soldiers marched to the scene of the accident and sat or stood at the side of the road to watch emergency crews respond to the accident. Firefighters used the Jaws of Life to remove one of those involved in the accident from the vehicle. Two who were critically injured were transported by ambulance to Memorial Hospital. The El Paso County coroner’s office staff was also at the scene and put the driver, who was pronounced dead at the scene, in a body bag. They loaded him into the hearse and drove away as taps played.
“I really think the Soldiers took it seriously,” Hosie said. “A lot of the young Soldiers probably think they’re invincible, that it’s not going to happen to them. But, this was a very graphic reminder of what could happen.”
That’s exactly the intent of the Every 15 Minutes program, said coordinator James Forrest Jr.
“The program is designed to educate the Soldiers to let them know that this is a serious situation,”
Forrest said. “We get them to where they understand by physically seeing what’s going to happen. Being able to see it firsthand is the best way to learn this.”
Although the drill is normally conducted in October as part of Red Ribbon Week, Menjivar said he hopes to conduct it every time a brigade returns from deployment.
Col. Robert F. McLaughlin, garrison commander, talked to the Soldiers after the drill.
“It’s your team. If you do something stupid, it’s going to hinder the training of your fellow Soldiers,” he said. “You’re not just hurting yourself, you’re not just hurting your Family, you’re hurting the team. As you prepare for combat, take care of each other. My team will do its best to take care of you, as well.”
As elaborate as the drill was, Hosie said that if it positively affects even a handful of Soldiers, it was worth it.
“It’s victory if one or two guys tonight decide to give their keys to their sober friend and don’t drink and drive.”