Life after a DUI: A Vandenberg Airman's struggle to overcome alcohol addiction

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Senior Airman Trey Lewis, a photographer with 30th Space Wing Public Affairs Office, revisits the events leading up to his Driving Under the Influence charge. Airman Lewis lived a life of partying and was arrested for a DUI charge in May 2005 in San Luis Obispo, Calif. However, Airman Lewis has used his experience as a turning point in his life. He has devoted his new life to helping others. ( U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Russell McBride)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Senior Airman Trey Lewis, a photographer with 30th Space Wing Public Affairs Office, revisits the events leading up to his Driving Under the Influence charge. Airman Lewis lived a life of partying and was arrested for a DUI charge in May 2005 in San Luis Obispo, Calif. However, Airman Lewis has used his experience as a turning point in his life. He has devoted his new life to helping others. ( U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Russell McBride)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Editor's Note: This is part one of a three-part series about the success of a Vandenberg Airman's longtime battle with alcohol and his life changing experience after receiving a Driving Under the Influence charge.

Airmen around the Air Force are bombarded with briefings, counseling sessions, safety reminders and commander's calls covering the topic of DUIs. It can be a sensitive topic and one on the forefront of commander's concerns at almost every base. And the statistics back up those concerns. According to Air Force statistics, an average of more than 100 Airmen per year have been charged with DUIs over the last three years.

While most Airmen have heard what punishment will happen if they get a DUI, not everyone hears about the effects it can have on their lives in the long-term. Are they just kicked straight out of the military? Do they get stuck doing menial labor until they get separated?

Well one Vandenberg Airman has gotten a DUI since entering the Air Force, and many who meet him now would be surprised to learn that fact. It's a topic he's not shy about; quite the contrary, he has taken his experience and tried to educate those around him -- both in the military and the local community -- on the dangers of alcohol. This is his story.

Part One: The Party Life

Senior Airman Trey Lewis, a photographer with the 30th Space Wing Public Affairs office, lived a life many young Airmen can identify with. Parties on the weekend with friends that included a lot of alcohol were a regular occurrence in his life. And Airman Lewis started young.

Having grown up in Clarksdale, Miss., Airman Lewis points out that there wasn't a whole lot to do. He started drinking with friends when he was just 14 years old and got heavy into drinking at 16.

"It was pretty much every weekend," he said. "We would get together and party to the point that we would just pass out."

That partying began to affect his life where he attended high school. Being gifted in a variety of sports, Airman Lewis had a promising future of going to college on a scholarship. However, in his sophomore year of high school, his drinking landed him into trouble and he was suspended from football and basketball.

"My senior year was really not that fun," he explained, looking at the floor thoughtfully. "There was so much I had taken away from me. I really let down my friends and my teammates.

"It still didn't stop me from drinking though," he added with a sarcastic laugh.

And why should it; despite all his problems at school he still managed to receive a full-ride scholarship to play tennis at Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, Ga.

"It was awesome," he said. "I didn't have to pay for anything. They not only paid for my tuition, but also my books and even pens, pencils and paper. I even got a food stipend."

His past would come back to haunt him, however, and a DUI charge would eventually have him looking for other career paths.

This eventually led him to the Air Force. He was not immediately accepted though due to his shaky past. It was only after a strong effort that he finally received a waiver and was able to enter the Air Force in October 2004.

Despite his good fortune, his demons would surface again. Shortly after arriving at Vandenberg and being assigned to the 30th Space Communications Squadron, and while still attending classes at the First Term Airmen's Center, or FTAC, he was arrested and charged with a second DUI in May 2005.

"We went out pretty much every night," he said. "I was new to the area, and I was meeting new people. We were on our way home, and I started to get on the highway going north when I was supposed to go south. Everyone yelled at me and said I was going the wrong way, so I jumped out of that lane to go the other way. That was when the cop stopped us. It wasn't like I was driving the wrong way down the highway or anything; I just got lost.

"It sounds funny, but I was kind of relieved," he added. "By this time, I knew I had a problem, but when you live that lifestyle it's almost like you need that outside influence to snap you out of it."

Editor's Note: Be sure to check out www.vandenberg.af.mil next week to see how Airman Lewis' arrest made an impact on his life:

"Everyone likes to think that the first time they get introduced to their whole squadron it would be to receive some kind of award not give an apology because you screwed up." - Senior Airman Trey Lewis, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs