MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
When Cpl. Robbie Johnson was just 13 years old, his father was killed by a drunk driver. Armed with firsthand knowledge about the negative effects of drinking and driving, Johnson resolved to take a proactive role in preventing drunk driving.
In the summer of 2010, Johnson, training noncommissioned officer for Company B, Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, started Project Guardian Angel, a non-profit program that offers transportation alternatives to Marines, sailors and civilians in the Jacksonville, N.C. area who are too intoxicated to get behind the wheel.
“A lot of friends and a lot of coworkers get in trouble for making the wrong decision,” said Johnson, the president of Project Guardian Angel. “Just one, five-minute decision ends up changing the rest of your career and the rest of your life.”
While there are a number of campaigns and organizations that educate the public about drunk driving, Johnson said he wanted to take an interactive, hands-on approach.
“When we first started, we approached people trying to solicit their attention and that didn’t work out as well as we had hoped,” said Johnson. “So the way we do it now, and it’s been working out very well, is we set up a table, like a little party right outside (the establishment). We always have some form of entertainment and we just let them come to us.”
Johnson said the disc jockeys and owners of establishments like bars and clubs support the organization’s cause, and they all work together to prevent drunk driving. Throughout the night, DJs will announce the organization’s presence and explain why they are there.
“A lot people will just come up to us throughout the night, just as a drinking game, and be like ‘how drunk am I?’” said Johnson. “And that’s all fine, as long as they understand why we are there and that we are not going to let them drive with a .20,” said Johnson.
Johnson said the organization uses two types of breathalyzers: the Lifeloc FC10, which is similar to what police officers and highway patrolmen use, and the BACtrack, what volunteers carry around with them inside the clubs and bars.
“We use the top-grade breathalyzers so we can be as accurate as possible,” said Johnson.
“If someone blows a .06 and they think ‘oh I’m good, I can drive,’ we educate them on the (blood alcohol content) levels, so people have the correct information on how alcohol affects their body and decision making.”
Project Guardian Angel doesn’t use PowerPoint presentations or classes to educate and persuade people from drinking and driving; instead, they do something else.
“We just talk to them,” said Sgt. Brian Purnell, vice president of Project Guardian Angel. “We don’t try to preach to them or get them in trouble, we are just trying to keep them safe and off the road.”
Johnson said while the volunteers of Project Guardian Angel protect Marines, sailors and the Jacksonville community from driving while under the influence and driving while intoxicated, they aren’t there to call the cops and get anyone arrested. On the contrary, they wear the same attire as those in the clubs and bars, and then hang out and socialize to make themselves more approachable.
“We want people to know we aren’t here to get them in trouble,” said Johnson. “If someone blows over the legal limit, we aren’t going to call the cops; our main concern is educating people and keeping them from drinking and driving.”
Project Guardian Angel offers a number of options, such as free transportation or they encourage the service member to use their Arrive Alive cards to prevent drinking and driving.
“We’ll call a taxi for them and if they don’t have money, we pay for the taxi, if they don’t want a taxi; we can have one of our volunteers take them home; and if they leave their information with us, we’ll come pick them up and take them to their vehicle the next morning, free of charge,” said Johnson. “All around, they are getting home safely, getting back to their car safely, and no harm, no foul.”
Since Project Guardian Angel officially started July 27, 74 Marines and sailors made it home safely by not drinking and driving.
“We haven’t had any confrontations so far and everyone is just going along with the flow, and we are so proud to have taken 74 people home, issue free,” concurred both Johnson and Purnell.
Currently, there are 150 people who volunteer with Project Guardian Angel. Johnson said the more people who volunteer with the program, the more clubs and bars the organization can cover in Jacksonville, ultimately giving service members no excuses to drink and drive.
For more information about Project Guardian Angel, or to make donations or volunteer, visit the website ProjectGuardianAngel.com or e-mail ProjectGuardianAngel@gmail.com.