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ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, SD -- By August 2000, there had already been 28 driving under the influence of alcohol arrests for that year by active-duty members assigned to Ellsworth. At that time, a program called “Dial-a-Ride” provided a reduced-price taxi fare paid by the First Sergeant’s Council. 

This program was not only ineffective in eliminating DUI arrests, but it was open to abuse (charges submitted to the First Sergeant’s Council for taxi rides never provided). A new approach was needed to stop, or at least reduce, DUI arrests, and one came. 

A new first sergeant to Ellsworth brought with him a program used at another base. The program was called Airmen Against Drunk Driving, and the Ellsworth Active Airmen’s Council was eager to incorporate this new approach to help keep fellow Airmen out of trouble. 

The base stood up AADD as a “volunteer peer-to-peer program established to prevent or minimize drunk driving, drunk driving incidents and deaths.” This program was to be staffed by a minimum of 35 volunteers in the rank of E-4 and below.

Teams of volunteers, consisting of a male and a female, would respond in their privately owned vehicles to calls from members who needed a safe ride home from the surrounding community. There would be complete confidentiality in this new program so callers didn’t need to worry about being reported to supervisors.

AADD caught on in a hurry, as Airmen realized they didn’t need to take individual responsibility for a safe ride home at the end of an evening. AADD volunteers would be there whenever needed, and the AADD volunteers were kept extremely busy.

Unfortunately, in spite of the hundreds of safe rides provided by AADD volunteers in 2001, the number of DUI arrests of active duty Ellsworth members remained nearly unchanged from 2000. In 2002, the DUI arrests increased significantly (47 total), and the AADD volunteers began to grow weary of the extensive volunteer hours, wear and tear on their vehicles and personal expenses for fuel. The AADD program needed a “face-lift” if it was to survive!

So, the AADD program was opened up to any and all volunteer drivers assigned to Ellsworth, and new volunteers ranged in rank from airman to major. Drivers wore civilian clothes to make pick-ups, and they never used their rank when providing AADD rides.

The program’s purpose was also tweaked a bit to ensure Ellsworth members knew AADD was not to be their first option for a safe ride home. Each Ellsworth member was encouraged to use a designated driver, plan to pay for a taxi ride home, etc., and understand that AADD should only be called if the plan for a safe ride home had somehow failed.

Hundreds upon hundreds of safe rides were provided over the next several years, yet the DUI arrests continued. In 2003 there were 34, and in 2004 there were 35 DUIs in spite of over 1,230 safe rides provided by AADD volunteers. In 2005 Ellsworth had 40 DUI arrests, even though AADD provided 760 safe rides. All of these numbers lead to obvious questions about the effectiveness of the AADD program.

When I recently met with the AAC, I was told AADD is still being used by a small group of folks as their sole plan for a safe ride home nearly every weekend night. This is potentially keeping intoxicated people from attempting to drive home, but they’re abusing the program’s intent and taking unfair advantage of the selfless AADD volunteers.

I’ve even been told AADD could be viewed as an “enabler,” by allowing some Ellsworth members to consistently drink to excess without taking individual responsibility for getting home safely. Simply put, AADD as it currently exists is not eliminating (or even reducing) DUI arrests of Ellsworth members. In my opinion, further AADD changes are necessary.

Master Sgt. Bryan Hendricks, the impressive volunteer currently running the AADD program, recently met with Col. (Jeffry) Smith (28th Bomb Wing commander) and me to suggest possible changes to the AADD program. He suggested allowing riders to tip AADD drivers to help offset the cost of fuel and vehicle maintenance.

Another suggestion was to document who’s using AADD for safe rides. This information would be kept confidential by the person in charge of AADD, but it would enable statistical analysis of what squadrons should concentrate on for better wingman/designated driver programs.

We’ve already had five DUI arrests in 2006 in spite of the availability of a safe ride by AADD, stressing the use of designated drivers/wingmen, roll calls, safety briefings and more. In the end, it’s an individual responsibility to ensure we each have a safe ride home before the night even begins.

AADD hasn’t had the intended affect for which it was stood up, and it seems to me the less than 1 percent of active duty Ellsworth members arrested for DUI in a year never intended to use AADD anyway.

In a time when our Air Force has announced cuts of 6,800 more Air Force members each year for the next 6 years, it seems obvious to me there’s no further need in our Air Force for the criminals who are arrested for DUI!