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Sober was smarter and safer

Master Sgt. Derek L. Miller, 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W. Va., recalls the night he made the right decision and was able to go home to his family. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Keith Wright)

Master Sgt. Derek L. Miller, 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W. Va., recalls the night he made the right decision and was able to go home to his family. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Keith Wright)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- As a student at West Virginia University I was very familiar with late nights, bar crawls and game day at Mountaineer Field. During my freshman year there I was required to take an orientation class aimed at helping students understand college life and how to adjust to it. The one thing I remember most about that class is a statement in the first chapter: During college football season, approximately 1 percent of U.S. alcohol consumption takes place in Morgantown, W.Va. I'm not sure where that fact came from, but I know it raised my eyebrows.

Just after Thanksgiving break in my senior year, I worked part time at the mall for the upcoming holiday season. If you've worked in retail during the holidays, you know how bad the hours can be. I'd worked a couple of weeks and was still learning the job and the people. After closing one night, a couple of my co-workers asked if I wanted to grab a drink with them. My initial reaction was, "Sure, I could use one after this day," but I declined and explained that I was really tired and needed to get home. I had a 9-month-old baby boy at home; I wanted to see him and give him a kiss good night before heading to bed.

On my way home I drove up on the mother of all DUI check points. It was like an assembly line, complete with a passenger bus that was already half full of people waiting to make the ride to the regional jail more than 100 miles away.

As I pulled into the parking lot of the Health Sciences Building - already full of city, county, state and university police cars -- I couldn't help but feel a bit nervous. That's probably why I stalled my Jeep while trying to pull up to the first officer who attempted to make small talk with me while I waited for an opening in the assembly line ahead.

I pulled up to the group of officers and allowed them to look around the vehicle while I answered questions of the officer at my window. Officer: "Have you been drinking tonight?" Me: "No, sir. I'm on my way home from work." Officer: "You sure about that answer?" Me: (After pausing a couple seconds) "Umm yes, sir." Officer: "Let's find out."

He gave me instructions on how to blow into the little tube. I leaned forward and exhaled until I didn't have any breath left. After a few seconds, that felt more like minutes, the officer said, "Umm ... you were right. Have a good night, son."

As I drove the last two miles home, I couldn't help but be thankful for the decision I'd made just a half-hour before. I was almost home. I was going to kiss my baby boy good night, I wasn't going to have to make any bad phone calls and I wasn't going to have to explain a DUI to my supervisor at the base when I went in for drill.

Making the right decisions feels good and we should all be proud of ourselves when we do make the right decisions. I encourage you to make the right decision and support those around you who do the same.