One by one, groups of Fort Gordon soldiers on Wednesday filed into the “drunk tank,” a reinforced police wagon of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office with steel benches, overhead lights and a single hole to use the bathroom.
Many of the soldiers sat with dazed looks, dizzy from the litany of sobriety tests they had failed minutes earlier.
Luckily, the experience was a drill conducted during Fort Gordon’s annual Safety Stand Down Day to simulate the sobering effects of being arrested for driving under the influence, the most litigated criminal charge in the Augusta area.
Among the other 15 exercises at the event for the installation’s 15,000 soldiers were ones focusing on suicide prevention; wildlife and snakes; hot weather; police canine training; sports; and motorcycle, boating and weapons safety.
“Never get drunk,” Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Owens said.
“Trust me. Nothing is more humbling than the drunk tank. It is a true statement of what it feels like to be in that situation.”
Owens claimed his seat in the patrol vehicle when he failed an impaired driving simulation. Strapped with fatal vision goggles that have specially cut lenses to distort perception, Owens struggled to pedal a bicycle in a circle marked with bright orange street cones.
He wobbled the bike’s handlebars and veered off course several times, proving to onlooking soldiers how dangerous they are behind the wheel after having a few drinks.
A few stations over, the goggles kept soldiers from walking straight lines and throwing balls in cardboard boxes fewer than 10 feet away.
“There is no control,” Pvt. David Overman said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that someone is killed by a drunk driver every 45 minutes, a figure that represents more than 11,000 lives lost annually to a consequence that is 100 percent preventable, said Deputy Brian Johnson, of the sheriff office’s DUI Task Force.
“A lot of people believe the mobile jail cell is a lot more intimidating than the intox machine we employ to determine how much alcohol they have in their system,” Johnson said.
“But what they do not realize is just a single beer or glass of wine will register on our readings and can impair judgment.”
With a three-day Memorial Day weekend approaching, the soldiers said the lessons would be easy to apply, as it reemphasized all the ways they could get in trouble while celebrating the summer’s first holiday.
“The event covered a broad spectrum of safety measures to all the public,” Staff Sgt. Joshua Arnold said. “It made us think of what can happen, which is a valuable tool.”