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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, Dedicates his life to helping others after his battle with alcoholism. Airman Lewis lived life in the fast lane until May 2005 when he was arrested for driving under the influence in San Luis Obispo, Calif. However, Airman Lewis has used his mistake to show others the negative consequences of risky living and has devoted his life to helping others. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jamie Lessard)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Senior Airman Trey Lewis, a photographer with 30th Space Wing Public Affairs office, Dedicates his life to helping others after his battle with alcoholism. Airman Lewis lived life in the fast lane until May 2005 when he was arrested for driving under the influence in San Luis Obispo, Calif. However, Airman Lewis has used his mistake to show others the negative consequences of risky living and has devoted his life to helping others. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jamie Lessard)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Editor's Note: This is part three 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. Part one covered the Airman's history of alcohol abuse and how that led to his eventual arrest. Part two covered his realization that his lifestyle would lead to an early death. 

Part III: A New Leaf

About six months to a year into his recovery, Senior Airman Trey Lewis, a photographer with the 30th Space Wing Public Affairs office, felt like he may be able to take his experience and help persuade others to make the smart decision when their time came.
"It took me a little while before I figured I wouldn't come off as a total hypocrite," he said. "You can't just walk in a couple weeks after getting a DUI and tell people they shouldn't drink and drive. Nobody is going to take that guy seriously."

It was at this point that he started to help out at local shelters. He also took the opportunity to start speaking about his experience to large groups. After a while, he decided to talk to the very group he was a part of when he got his DUI. He returned to First Term Airman's Center, or FTAC, to talk about what happened to him.

"I thought it was a great opportunity to talk to these Airmen in this setting," he said. "These Airmen are brand new in the Air Force and are looking to meet new people and learn what there is to do around their base. I started to think this may be a perfect time to interface with them before they made the same mistake I made."

"He began volunteering - on and off base - and speaking at commander's calls and safety briefings," said Senior Master Sgt. Russell Howell, Airman Lewis' then first sergeant. "Before long, the wing leadership was no longer talking about the 'DUI in the comm squadron' but, instead, commenting on this 'squared-away' Airman. What a difference!"

In October 2007, Airman Lewis made perhaps his biggest move to help others in desperate need. With special permission from his first sergeant, he moved into the Hope House, a sober-living house primarily for former prison inmates transitioning back to civilian life, to be its manager. There he is in charge of making sure everyone makes a clean transition and stays out of trouble. This includes everything from assigning chores to ordering random urinalysis.

But not every story has a happy ending.

"I had to kick two people out last week," he said. "It's really hard to take these people in and see some of them not make it. We do everything we can for them though."

That includes being a shoulder to lean on during times of need.

"I'm not a counselor or anything," he added. "But sometimes it helps them out to just sit and listen."

Overall, Airman Lewis has made big strides in his life to improve himself and those around him by choosing to learn from his mistakes instead of dwell on them. He is playing tennis again for a college in Santa Maria, Calif., and looks forward to continuing his work helping others.

"Airman Lewis is a rare breed," Sergeant Howell added. "Rather than give in to peer pressure and continue down that road to disaster, he chose to change his course and become a success. Even when faced with the negative consequences of his actions, he never once behaved like a victim. He took responsibility and became a much better Airman, even helping others along the way."

Airman Lewis will ultimately separate from the Air Force in October. However, it is not because he wants to get out and not because of the DUI he got while in FTAC on that fateful night in 2005. He must separate due to another alcohol-related arrest in 2001. It is because of that criminal past that he is unable to receive the security clearance required for his job. And while some may think this is unfair, Airman Lewis has a different opinion.

"The Air Force provided me the structure I needed to put my life back together," he said. "If they didn't give me that waiver to come in, I would probably still be partying with my buddies back in Mississippi.

"I'm not bitter at all," he explained. "Ultimately, all the good things that were taken away from me in the beginning I got back in the end. What else could you ask for?"

*Note: The Air Force offers the Alcohol Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment, or ADAPT, program and the Drug Demand Reduction, or DDR, program for Airmen who feel they may have a problem with drug or alcohol abuse. For more information on the ADAPT or DDR programs, or for information on other programs, call the Behavioral Health Clinic. Airman can also see their chaplain if they are interested in faith-based programs or just need someone to talk to.