‘Critical Days’ Safety Message Turns Personal for Airman
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 2, 2010 The military services have geared up their summer safety campaigns, encouraging troops and their families to enjoy the season without becoming statistics during a period historically marred by a spike in off-duty accidents.
Mourning at the grave of Air Force Tech. Sgt. Audra Britt are, from left, her sister, Anika Lee; her son, Nathaniel Alexander Britt; her brother, Air Force Staff Sgt. Aron Lee; and his daughter, Kennedy Misarah Amaya Lee. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Ninety-five servicemembers died last year during the “Critical Days of Summer” season that kicks off Memorial Day weekend and extends through Labor Day. One hundred fifteen troops were killed in off-duty accidents during the same period in 2008.
As in previous years, car, truck and motorcycle accidents claimed the heaviest toll.
This year, as servicemembers receive their unit safety briefings before being cut loose for the weekend, an airman at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, is imploring them to take heed.
Staff Sgt. Aron Lee, the 737th Training Group’s unit training manager, remembers the days when his eyes would glaze over during safety briefings.
“I used to be like everybody else in the Air Force,” he said. “When you get a safety briefing, it’s usually on a Friday, and what you’re thinking about is, ‘When is this going to be over? I’ve got things to do.’”
“I used to be that person,” he said.
That was before Lee’s sister, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Audra Britt, and her husband, Tech Sgt. Maurice Britt, died at the hands of a drunk driver in April 2009.
Avid motorcyclists stationed at Lackland, they were returning home from a motorcycle rally in Austin when their lives were snuffed out by a drunk driver going the wrong way on a one-way street.
Lee remembers the early-morning call that there’d been an accident. Soon after, he received the crushing news that his brother-in-law had died instantly and his sister was in intensive care. He remembers rushing to her bedside as she fought for life, a steady stream of visitors from Lackland helping keep vigil with prayers and encouragement.
Six days later, Britt lost her battle. She left behind a 4-year-old son to grow up without his parents and a family that vowed to protect others from the kind of pain they’d endured.
“We know that our mission is to educate people on the effects of alcohol and drugs and to try to get people to turn their lives around,” said Lee, who received a compassionate reassignment to Lackland to help his parents raise their grandson.
They founded EVADE 411 – for “Empowering Victory through Alcohol and Drug Education,” followed by the date of Audra Britt’s death, April 11, 2009. The whole family is taking steps toward becoming licensed chemical dependency counselors.
Now, when Lee sits through standard military safety briefings, he sees through the impersonal statistics displayed on PowerPoint slides. Each number represents a person who, just like his sister and her husband, left behind hopes and dreams and loving families to go on without them.
Lee has now set out to share that message with as many servicemembers as possible. He keeps one of his brother in law’s old motorcycle helmets in his office to spark conversation, and volunteers to address groups to share his story. When he talks, he forgoes PowerPoint slides and speaks straight from the heart.
“My mission now is to touch as many people as I can,” he said. “I want to make sure they are aware of how alcohol affects the body, what happens if they drink and drive, and how it has an exponential effect beyond the person injured.”
As he delivers his safety message, Lee said he doesn’t expect servicemembers to give up alcohol – just to drink responsibly. That includes having a designated driver and, should that person decide to imbibe, a Plan B.
“If you are going to drink, have a plan,” Lee said. “Then, have a backup plan to your plan, and a backup plan to that.”
And Lee’s realistic enough to recognize that not everyone will be receptive to his message. “But if I talk to a group of 50 people and am able to impact one person, that is a success for me,” he said. “My soul will be happy, because I would never wish on my worst enemy to go through one bit of what my family has been through.”