New York Times Feature –
July 24, 2019 – At 19, I signed over custody of my son to my mother in order to join the Air Force. The rigid environment in basic training forced me to get sober, which lasted until my follow-on training school, where I drank at every opportunity. I assumed this was what people my age were doing in college. After graduation, I received orders to Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and felt I was on track to build my life with my son. Unfortunately, my drinking would delay regaining custody of him by almost a year.
When I reported to my unit, it didn’t take long for me to realize I was in a male-dominated workplace. I wanted to fit in with the guys, and the only way I knew how to do that was to drink with them. So I did, every night. One evening, after leaving the noncommissioned officers’ club, I was arrested for driving under the influence and underage drinking. Not even three months into my first duty station, I was now the disgrace of the unit, which according to a sign posted on base, hadn’t had a D.U.I. charge in over five years. Along with a nonjudicial punishment given by my commanding officer, I received a yearlong suspension of driving privileges on base. This meant many months of working hard to convince my unit and my mother that I was responsible enough to regain custody of my son. I still drank, but I learned how to do it without being caught. By 21, I resumed full custody.