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One decision—terrible consequences –moving forward

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 1.5 million people are arrested in a given year for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. That means that one out of every 121 licensed drivers were arrested for drunk driving. On November 16, 2018, Staff Sgt. Alexandra Longfellow, 21st Space Wing public affairs photojournalist, was arrested for drunk driving on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. For the past year, she has been working hard to get her life back together. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Longfellow)

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 1.5 million people are arrested in a given year for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. That means that one out of every 121 licensed drivers were arrested for drunk driving. On November 16, 2018, Staff Sgt. Alexandra Longfellow, 21st Space Wing public affairs photojournalist, was arrested for drunk driving on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. For the past year, she has been working hard to get her life back together. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Longfellow)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

Have you ever wished you could change something you did in your past? If you had the ability to do so, what would it be and why?

Normally, I would have told you I wouldn’t want to change anything about my past, regardless of whether it was bad. All of my mistakes and errors made me who I am today. Sounds cliché, but it is the truth.

Then on November 16, 2018 at 7:33 p.m., I got a DUI.

I wish I could start that day all over again. I would do things differently.

It was Friday, and I had a glass of bourbon calling my name. As I was drinking, I received a phone call from my Airman asking for help. She couldn’t get a hold of friend in the dorms and was scared for the Airman’s safety. Memories of my friend who attempted suicide flooded back. I got off the phone with my Airman, frantically calling the law enforcement desk and telling them the situation.

I got another call. It was my Airman again. She was nervous and asked if I could come be with her. Without a thought, I got up, grabbed my car keys and drove. The dorms were only two minutes away.

When I arrived on scene, the security forces members’ smelled alcohol on my breath. They asked if I had been drinking. I did what came naturally and answered with the truth. I was nervous. I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into. The security forces member had me step to the side while I could hear them talking about me. I called my ex-husband, who is a security forces member at a different base. I was on the verge of crying as I told him what was happening. He consoled me and told me to remain calm and do what I was told to do.

I found myself handcuffed in the back of the squad car after failing the field sobriety test and breathalyzer.

It wasn’t an easy weekend. My mind was racing, I didn’t sleep, and when I did, it was restless. I felt alone and scared. Even when my co-workers and leadership called or messaged asking how I was doing and what they could do to help me, I was alone. I had only myself to blame. Sometimes, I felt there was no reason for me to try, and other times, I thought I could get through it. My emotions and mood were all over the place. But I knew I needed to stay strong for what was to come. I had to get through this for myself and my family.

I received an Article 15 and was in jeopardy of losing my entire career as well. I was placed on an unfavorable information file. I was not promotion eligible, couldn’t reenlist and wasn’t allowed to be put in for any career field or Air Force level awards.  As an administrative consequence, I was also not allowed to drive on base for one year.  My enlistment was up in just a few months after.

The time I feel most embarrassed about is when my ID is checked at the gate as a riding passenger in a vehicle. There is a split second of shock on the guards’ faces when the note pops up on the data system screen letting them know I am not permitted to enter the base by driving. Their face quickly becomes a smile and hands the IDs back to the driver.

Besides being embarrassing, restricted driving privileges pose a problem at work. I am a public affairs specialist and travel on and off base to take photos, conduct interviews and work with community leaders. I rely heavily on my co-workers to drive me to jobs around base.

That decision also impacted me in ways I couldn’t expect, like being a mother. From the moment I walked back in the door after being released that night, I told my children what I had done. They understand ‘mom drank and decided to drive, and that wasn’t a good choice’.

I am one of the lucky ones, despite my bad decision. I am lucky I did not hurt anyone or myself. I had to prove to myself and my leadership I was worthy of staying in the Air Force. I worked harder and volunteered even more than normal. And although I couldn’t use tuition assistance, I was able to continue my education and professional development with online courses. My leadership believed in me and let me reenlist when my time was coming to an end.

I have learned to take a moment to think before making a decision that could impact my life, not just about the subject of alcohol. In spite of making my mistake, I have kept my spirits up so I can continue to be the Airman I was before the mistake took a hold of my reputation. I have persevered and continued to demonstrate I am not the Airman with the DUI but the Airman who wrote that good article or gave that commander good advice before speaking in front of a crowd.

The next time you think you are not too drunk to drive, please take a second to think about the terrible consequences that could happen in your life. Value your life, the lives of others and your career. You always have an option. Chose the right one.