by Monica Mendoza
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Lt. Col. Ira Perkins, 21st Space Wing staff judge advocate, described a reality on the streets of Colorado Springs that Airmen should know – cops on the hunt for drunk drivers.
In the first four and half months of this year there were more DUI cases among 21st Space Wing Airmen than all of last year, Colonel Perkins said during a commander’s call May 17 at the base auditorium.
It’s not just bad luck for the Airmen, or a physical anomaly as to why there is an increase, he said.
“It’s the local cops and the (district attorney) cracking down on DUIs – they are hunting for drunk drivers,” he said. “They are outside the clubs, outside the bars and the headlights behind you are probably cops.”
Col. Stephen N. Whiting, 21st Space Wing commander, said he was thankful that local police and the district attorney are coming down hard on drunk drivers. It means, he said, that his family and all Air Force families are safer on the roads. Drunk driving, he said, is not tolerated in the Air Force.
“Drunk driving puts innocent people at risk,” Colonel Whiting said.
Colonel Perkins has worked as defense counsel and has represented hundreds of Airmen, he said.
“The one client that irritated me the most was the drunken driving client,” he said.
First, he said, he always lost the case. Typically, Airmen came to him and said they had blown into a breathalyzer machine and it reported that they were drunk. Well, he said, you can’t argue with the facts.
“All of my clients were either court-martialed or given an Article 15, all of them lost (rank),” he said. “But, the second reason I didn’t like DUI clients is because for the most part they had all been good Airmen – Bronze Stars, Purple Hearts, distinguished pilots, doctors, NCOs and Airmen with really good careers.”
Unlike the dorm thief who contemplates the crime, these folks just didn’t have a very good plan, Colonel Perkins said.
And underage Airmen who drink have no excuse. Not only are they breaking Colorado law, but underage drinking goes against the Air Force Core Values and violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Staff Sgt. Merri Crandell, Mental Health Element noncommissioned officer in charge, said Airmen should have a Plan A, Plan B and a Plan C – even if Plan C is to call the chain of command.
“I would rather have a troop call me at two in the morning and say ‘come and pick me up because my plan failed’ than be in front of our commander in blues and having that conversation,” Sergeant Crandell said.
Moreover, Airmen should know what they are drinking, Sergeant Crandell said. A 12 ounce microbrew has about 4 to 5 percent alcohol; a shot of hard liquor has about 40 percent alcohol; and, a five ounce glass of wine has about 11 percent alcohol.
“Why those numbers are important, is because it doesn’t matter how you feel after you had a drink, it’s the number you blow into the machine,” she said. “That’s all the cops are talking about – if you blow in the machine and it’s higher than it should be, that’s all that matters.”
The cost of a DUI is high and not worth the risk, Colonel Perkins said. A first DUI can result in a driver’s license being suspended for three months, up to $1,000 fine and a minimum of five days in jail. Hiring a civilian attorney could get charges reduced, but, it will cost about $8,000 in attorney fees. And, Airmen will still be held administratively accountable on base.
“There are just cooler things to do, like go to the library,” Colonel Perkins said.