LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
When you think about the Labor Day weekend, what comes to mind?
Images of past vacations with family and friends? Summer's end and a return to the classroom? The first kickoff of the college football season? Or is it a loved one who is no longer with us?
The difference between a great memory of this holiday weekend and one we'd rather forget often comes down to the choices we make and the risks we take.
Don't drink and drive, use a designated driver. We all know that's the right thing to do, yet each day hundreds, if not thousands, choose to get behind the wheel anyway.
While some make it to their destination without incident, others end up causing accidents that claim innocent lives.
It's likely many of us have family, friends and co-workers who've been hurt or killed by drunk drivers. I do.
July 11, 1997. On that day, Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Jackson graduated from the Kisling NCO Academy at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
It was a proud moment for him and his wife, Hiroko, as she and four other members of the 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base watched him accept his diploma.
I have a photo of them, smiling broadly for the camera before the ceremony started, celebrating this significant milestone. I can't look at the photo without getting choked up. For you see, on the drive back to Spangdahlem, when they were only five miles from home, Jennings' Isuzu Trooper was hit head on by an 18-wheeler, driven by a drunk driver who fell asleep at the wheel.
Jennings, Staff Sgt. Kevin Sullivan, Senior Airman Angela Fralick and Mrs. Jackson were killed instantly. Miraculously, then-Staff Sgt. Teresa Hall survived despite serious injuries that required her to spend over a year at Wilford Hall Medical Center for rehabilitation.
I still remember the gasps and screams in the theater at Spangdahlem as my squadron commander told us what had happened. Shock, anger, sadness and a thousand other emotions coursed through us all.
We wanted answers, wanted to know why this happened, wanted to understand why a trucker would choose to drink and drive, but no answer could bring back the members of my squadron. Four lives cut short and thousands of lives changed forever.
So what can we do to ensure the memories we share with co-workers on Tuesday are ones of good times shared with family and friends and not the tale of a tragic accident?
First, we can make good risk management decisions and make responsible choices. If you're planning to spend time outdoors, make sure everyone is properly hydrated. This is a record-setting summer for high temperatures and it's easy for folks to get overheated, particularly children. If you're going to fire up the grill, make sure it's in good working condition and be extra careful given the dry conditions. If you're heading to the lake or beach and will be in a boat, wear the appropriate safety gear.
Sadly, every year many deaths on the water are caused by the lack of flotation devices.
Finally, if you're going to be operating a motor vehicle, on the water or on the road, please don't drink and drive. Buckle up and arrive alive.
And on Tuesday, I look forward to hearing your stories.