Story and photos by Spc. Samantha B. Koss
Every Friday afternoon Soldiers anticipate a safety briefing from their commanders. They stand in formation as they hear the same weekly warnings against drunken driving and domestic violence.
April 1 started like any other Friday for Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. But as they formed up behind the Special Events Center for their safety brief, they were met with a different scene.
As the 800 Soldiers entered the SEC, they passed a smashed car, the result of a drunken driving incident that killed a Soldier and his civilian passenger in June 2010.
Once seated, the Soldiers listened, not to their commanders but to a Colorado Springs police officer; a domestic violence speaker; and Joan Palmer, a Mothers Against Drunk Driving activist who lost her son after his vehicle was hit by a drunken driver.
“I don’t believe that drunk driving is an accident,” Palmer said. “It is your choice to drive drunk, and it was not an accident that my son was hit.”
Silence filled the room as Palmer tearfully described her son’s death.
“We have to move on, so my husband and I have chosen to forgive,” she said.
The bleachers roared with applause as Soldiers gave Palmer a standing ovation after her speech. On her way out of the building, a few Soldiers approached Palmer to thank her for taking the time to share her story.
“The MADD speaker’s story really touched us … we will definitely think twice before driving drunk,” said Sgt. Casey Duran, 1st Bn., 8th Inf. Reg.
“We just came back from Iraq and we want to remind our Soldiers to be careful on the weekends and on block leave,” said Capt. Kenneth King, 1st Bn., 8th Inf. Reg., rear detachment commander. “We brought everyone back from Iraq, and now we need to be proactive and stay safe at home.”
Soldiers focused on a projector screen as Colorado Springs police officer Pat Turechek presented drunk-driving statistics and pictures of mangled vehicles.
“Even having one drink before you drive is dangerous,” said Turechek. “And you can spend over $10,000 if convicted for driving under the influence.”
Three Soldiers volunteered to put on “drunk” goggles while Turechek administered sobriety tests. The goggles demonstrated how intoxication affects vision and balance.
Soldiers watched from the bleachers as their battle buddies struggled to catch a tennis ball, walk a straight line and balance on one foot.
The unit was released for the weekend with a new attitude on drunken driving.
“(This safety brief) was more powerful than the same old briefs we get by our chain of command.” said Spc. Kyle Arcioia, 1st Bn., 8th Inf. Reg. “Having speakers directly involved in drunk-driving tragedies really hits home.”