Monday, 01 July 2019 17:15

The 'Few and the Proud' join forces with state to combat drunk driving

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GHSP Director Mark Ezzell speaks at 2019 'Operation Firecracker' kickoff event in Jacksonville. GHSP Director Mark Ezzell speaks at 2019 'Operation Firecracker' kickoff event in Jacksonville. NCDOT

JACKSONVILLE — The Marine Corps Air Station New River played host Monday to the annual North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program Statewide Fourth of July ‘Booze It & Lose it’ campaign, dubbed "Operation Firecracker."

Operation Firecracker aims to prevent alcohol-related crashes by targeting impaired drivers during the July 4 holiday season. The campaign runs July 1 through July 7 with law enforcement agencies running sobriety checkpoints in all 100 counties to help catch drunk drivers and reduce fatalities.

Monday’s kickoff was launched on the air station with educational activities and displays including:

  • Blood Alcohol Testing Mobile Unit: (BAT Mobile to be used for touring as well as an overnight check point in Onslow County);
  • Seatbelt Convincer: (an educational tool that allows riders to experience force, up to five times their body weight, similar to that of a 5-10 mph crash);
  • Golf Carts & Goggles: (drunk driving simulators); and a
  • Hot Car demonstrator.

Poised in front of a commanding MV-22 Osprey from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (VMM-263), Lt. Col. Roger Holliday, director of Installations and Environment, MCAS New River, addressed a crowd of about 350 Marines, Sailors and civilians.

“This campaign is aimed at saving the lives of those who ensure all of our freedom by bringing a heightened sense of awareness about an issue that can plague military communities,” he said.

Military communities have one of the most susceptible populations to drinking and driving with the majority of the enlisted Marines and Sailors being male between the ages of 18 and 22.

N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program Director Mark Ezzell told the crowd, “It’s a time for us to fire up the barbecue, grab a seat for that spectacular fireworks display and hoist the flag, not lower it because someone we know died or was killed due to poor planning.”

“We need you to ‘improvise, adapt, and overcome’ and practice new techniques going forward,” Ezzell added. “Call a cab, call a buddy, take the bus or use ride-share services. These are four easy ways not to die after you’ve been drinking.”

Lance Cpl. Brandon Pena is a Marine with Headquarters & Headquarters Squadron, MCAS New River, whose career abruptly shifted in July of 2018.

“It was around this time last year that I was arrested right here on base for driving drunk,” he shared with the crowd. “I was drinking at a party and decided to drive myself home. I thought I knew 'my limit' but no one does.”

Base officials conducted a breathalyzer test and Pena blew almost twice the legal limit.

“My blood alcohol was 0.13. I was booked. I lost my license. I lost my rank. I lost respect. What I gained however, was a second chance at a law-abiding life. I could have killed myself that night or God forbid someone else. I still live my life as a Marine. I plan on celebrating this 4th of July, but I can tell you I won't be drinking and driving,” Pena continued.

His message was simple as is the solution for celebrating safety this holiday and any other.

“Leave the keys at home. No one knows their own limit, and once you are drunk it's too late.”

The ‘Booze It & Lose It’ campaign is one of the many campaigns by NCGHSP which supports, through funding, a myriad of safe-driving initiatives like Click It or Ticket, BikeSafe NC, Watch For Me NC, Speed a Little. Lose a Lot, and North Carolina’s Vision Zero initiative.