JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – When Zach Peters was 6 years old, his father lost control of his truck, causing it to flip three times and putting Peters in the hospital for three days. His father was drunk.
Sgt. Peters, now an Apache helicopter technical inspector with 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, was lucky to survive. Not everyone affected by drunk driving is so fortunate.
To help combat drinking and driving, The Save a Life Tour, which travels across the country to military installations, colleges and high schools, stopped at Joint Base Lewis-McChord July 8-12 to educate soldiers on the risk of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
The instructor for the Save the Life Tour, Chris “Cejay” Rich, begins his class with a 24-minute movie of “blood, guts and gore” to show Soldiers what can happen if they drink and drive. After the video, Rich shares how this subject changed his life.
“A friend of mine returned from deployment and bought a motorcycle,” Rich said. “He was then killed in a crash going 90 mph with 2.20 percent blood alcohol content. It’s just sad.”
Rich’s goal now is to get people to care about drinking and driving before it affects them, but for many soldiers, it already has.
“We left a party, and we were both drunk; my buddy drove the few blocks home,” said Pvt. Mauricio Chavarria, a Los Angeles native and mortar operator with 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. “Even though we made it, we certainly could have been hurt. This training could have really helped me before that night.”
After the stories he heard at the Save a Life Tour, he made a promise to himself.
“I don’t plan to ever find myself in this situation again,” Chavarria said.
One soldier at the Save a Life Tour was not as lucky as Chavarria.
“We went to a bachelor party Feb. 9,” said Sgt. Zane McCallum, a San Bernardino, Calif., native and medic with 2-1 Inf. “We had a plan, we had a designated driver.”
Unfortunately, McCallum’s plan failed during pre-dawn hours when he asked his friend for his keys to get something out of the car. When he got them, he instead drove off. He lost control and hit a tree. The OnStar service in his car called the ambulance for him.
“No one even knew I had left until I called them after I got arrested,” McCallum said.
McCallum learned a lesson that cost him and his family money and time.
“There is no such thing as a good drunk driver,” said Rich.
In Washington state, first time drunk driving offenders can face jail time, license suspension and fines up to $5,000. Soldiers can also face additional punishment through the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
"Have a plan, and stick to it. I can't emphasize this enough. The number of lives lost to accidents, where alcohol was a factor, is something that we all can prevent. There are no bystanders when it comes to looking out for our teammates and this includes having a designated driver. One life lost to drunk driving is one too many," said Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, I Corps Commander.
With more than 300,000 miles on the road, the Save a Life Tour has been many places, but the idea behind it has remained the same. “We want to put that little thought in their head that tells them to make good choices,” Rich said.