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AADD reform encourages culture of responsible choices

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- The procedures for Airmen Against Drunk Driving program here will change April 30.

The goal of the anti-drunk driving coalition council's reforms of installing a 24/7 automated phoneline and switching to volunteers using their own personal vehicles from their homes aims to streamline the effectiveness of the program while focusing on its main objectives: saving lives and empowering Airmen.

"These reforms will ensure equal access to our services, our volunteer base stays universal and AADD remains a program run by all Airmen for all Airmen," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden, AADD president. "As always, the responsibility remains on all Airmen, not just our volunteers, to make plans, prepare for contingencies and educate themselves about the ill-effects of drinking and driving."

The Old System

The program operates Saturdays and Sundays from midnight to 6 a.m. and will continue to be run during those times. The current program utilizes volunteer drivers who report to a staging area in the 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron dormitory.

There, they and a phone-call dispatcher await calls from anyone who may need their services. Once a call has come through, two drivers will both depart in the program's only vehicle, which is sponsored by a local car dealership.

Their objective is to collect the inebriated Airman and get them and their car back to their home. AADD drivers do this by having one driver operate the Airman's vehicle, and the other AADD driver follows the car with the dealership vehicle.

Current program rules barred non-AADD volunteers to ride in the vehicle, limiting AADD to callers with cars.

"If the Airman didn't have a car, we'd basically tell him to find another way home," said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Shawnte Gholson, AADD's outreach liaison. "The Airman's Creed says 'I will never leave an Airman behind,' but to these people, that's what we were doing."

With the transfer complete, the two volunteers can then either drive back to the 52nd LRS staging area or drive to pick up another Airman until their shift ends.

Using a single provided vehicle limited volunteers to just two. The council raised the cap to four, yet two drivers would remain idle while waiting for the car to return to base.

A single car for multiple calls also added to response times, leaving callers to wait an average of more than one hour until drivers could reach them. With multiple calls during that same window, times compounded, even running outside the program's hours of operation.

"We were in this strange situation of not only telling carless Airmen to call or pay someone else but we were turning away more volunteers than we could accept," McFadden said. "If Airmen want to volunteer, we ought to help them do that. And if Airmen need help, we should link them with those willing to do so."

The New System

AADD volunteers will no longer drive a single provided vehicle. McFadden stressed that this decision came from the AADD council and not reflective of the dealership or caused by any outside factors.

Instead, volunteers will use their own vehicles to transport callers back to their home locations, similar to how AADD runs at most Air Force installations. Getting a caller's personal vehicle back is not AADD's responsibility, and Airmen should adjust accordingly before heading out.

Drivers and callers will be separated by gender, ensuring females will only be picked up by females and males will pick up males.  Exceptions may be made for groups of mixed genders as appropriate.

Volunteers will no longer be required to report to a staging area on base. They can operate from home and answer calls as needed. On-call dispatchers will also receive AADD requests from their homes and will select drivers nearest to a caller's location to return them.

"If a caller is in Speicher and needs a ride back to Bitburg, we can summon from our volunteer pool a driver from one of those two areas to bring them home," McFadden said. "This will reduce the response times, efficiently utilize volunteer man hours, conserve fuel, and guarantee no Airman will be turned away because they didn't have a car."

Airmen without vehicles or USAREUR driver licenses can still volunteer for AADD as a phone dispatcher. Those with licenses may also serve as designated drivers for their friends.

"We're not turning into a 'taxi service,'" Gholson added, "We're helping our fellow Airmen in need."

Expanded phone service

The second part of reform will convert the AADD phone number (06565-61-2233) from a phone manned just 12 hours a week into an automated service available 24/7.

During AADD's operating hours, callers who select AADD support will be transferred to the base command post who will transfer them to the on-call dispatcher for pickup. 

Should no driver or dispatcher be available, the caller has the option to be returned to the main AADD phone line for additional services or be connected through the command post to their respective first sergeant or recall roster. 

"We will continue to offer rides home for Airmen so long as volunteers remain willing to do so," McFadden said. "Should no volunteers be available, we offer the phoneline and its options as another tool to empower Airmen."

Those who call outside of AADD's hours can be connected to the command post as well as local cab agencies, Ride for Life, the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, medical emergencies, security forces, the Airman & Family Readiness Center, the chapel and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

McFadden said the inclusion of these agencies into the AADD phone number offers a safety net should its services be unavailable, guaranteeing Airmen access to support should they elect to use them.

He added that the ultimate success of the reform, as well as the continuing program, depends on the contributions of all of Saber Nation.

"The first 'A' in AADD is for 'Airmen,' and that is not exclusive to our volunteers or just junior enlisted," McFadden said. "It includes our passengers and even those who may never use or volunteer for AADD in their careers. This fact is at the heart of our reform plan, represents a value we are committed to upholding and a better future we are committed to forging today."

Changing the culture

The AADD council enacted these reforms not only to address program effectiveness but tackle unintended effects it had on the base's culture.

The council recognized further issues beyond the current program. They offered surveys to callers and found that two-thirds of those polled said they both planned on drinking before heading out and using AADD services that night.

Furthermore, McFadden said that two-thirds of the program's 266 trips in 2014 included more than one passenger and one third of the total had more than three people.

Each of those additional passengers represented a potential designated driver, he added.

"Of course we recognize Airmen calling AADD as a net positive for the community and encourage them to use us when needed," McFadden said. "However, these trends represent an opportunity for us to do better at communicating AADD as a last resort. We do our fellow Airmen a greater service by not enabling them to continue making the same choices but by empowering them with more options promoting responsibility and accountability."

McFadden acknowledged the changes may take time. But he added that the end result of the reforms will not only be measured in numbers or trends but also in the successful choices Spangdahlem's Airmen make.

"This reform is not an experiment -- this is about cultural change," he said. "Under the old program, we sent an unintentional message that Airmen with cars didn't need a designated driver or another plan: AADD would bring them and their car home for free, and we'd do it again the next week. Those days are over, and we're not going back."

For more information about AADD, email 52fw.aadd@us.af.mil. If you are in need of AADD services, call 06565-61-2233.

"We're all out there trying to change the culture of drinking and driving," Gholson said. "Never forget: drinking and driving is never OK. It's not good, and it's not safe."