FAIRBANKS — For Spc. Albert Rodrigues, Fairbanks’ bars and other late night hangouts are far from his favorite place to spend time.
But because he believes that’s where he can do the most good, Rodrigues spends every Friday and Saturday night giving rides for Soldiers Against Drunk Driving, a rapidly expanding program that shuttles intoxicated soldiers home, no questions asked, so they don’t risk driving under the influence.
Rodrigues “detests” alcohol, although he doesn’t mind, and now has plenty of practice, being around drunken people.
“For me, it’s a waste of money,” he said. “I don’t derive any kind of pleasure from it. Coupled with that, I’ve seen families ruined (by alcohol). My best friend’s career gone. I know a family that lost a loved one to drunk driving.”
Rodrigues works as a lab technician at the Fort Wainwright medical clinic by day, and is a frequent volunteer in his time off. In addition to the Soldiers Against Drunk Driving program, he gives his time to the Southern Lights Chapel on Fort Wainwright, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District and the Army Financial Readiness Program.
But his most meaningful work has been for Soldiers Against Drunk Driving, which he has volunteered for since 2010. He has volunteered more than 720 hours to the program, a commitment that led the Army to name him Fort Wainwright Volunteer of the Year for 2012.
Rodrigues is 42 years old and joined the Army much later than most of his colleagues. He’s originally from Mangalore in southwestern India, where his first career was not in medicine but law, specifically real estate and succession at his father’s firm. In 2005, he immigrated to Orlando, Fla., where he got married. He enlisted in the Army in 2009, where he was trained to draw blood and analyze samples.
Rodrigues was stationed at Fort Wainwright in 2010, and started volunteering for SADD not long after arriving. In general, the program covers the hours from 11 p.m. to 3:30 a.m., but there are exceptions. On New Year’s Eve, Rodrigues drove from 10:45 p.m. to 5:45 a.m. The usual pick up spots are local bars Kodiak Jack’s, Rock ‘N’ Rodeo and the Red Fox and late night restaurants like Denny’s and McDonald’s, he said. Concerts at the Blue Loon also keep SADD drivers busy.
Reinforcing Rodrigues’ distaste for alcohol are all the worst signs of alcohol consumption he sees each weekend. It’s fairly common for his riders to throw up in the Army van he drives, and he’s also had to carry passengers to their homes because they are not able to walk. Aggressive drunks aren’t a common problem. When they’re conscious, riders usually express their gratitude.
“Generally, they are very thankful,” he said. “Occasionally, we do have some unruly elements. We try to calm them down. We’ve only had a couple of incidents where we’ve had to go to the military police.”
When Rodrigues started volunteering, he often was the only SADD driver. That’s changed dramatically in the past six months as both the number of volunteers and soldiers using the service has increased.
Fort Wainwright’s SADD volunteer roster now has about 50 names. During the last weekend of July, Rodrigues, three other drivers and a dispatcher transported 52 soldiers.
Rodrigues attributes the growth to soldiers realizing that SADD is a no-questions asked service, and they won’t be punished for using it. While the Army encourages soldiers to plan ahead by setting up a designated driver or having taxi fare, using SADD is vastly preferred to driving drunk, he said.
Unlike the Courtesy Patrol, an Army-directed program to sort out problems soldiers get into on the weekends, Soldiers Against Drunk Driving is less a formal “soldiers helping soldiers” type of program. A handful are officers, including a major, but most of the drivers are enlisted soldiers.
“If I call my NCO (noncommissioned officer) to come and pick me up, I’m not going to be comfortable,” Rodrigues said. “That’s why they have SADD. We are friendly guys. We don’t complain; we are not supposed to report anything.”