Just call me crash: CBIRF Marines, sailors face the reality of drunk driving

19 May 2008 | Cpl. Leslie Palmer

Marines and sailors watched the screen as the video story about a young and beautiful woman quickly took a downturn for the worst. Quiet conversation filled the large room where the Marines and sailors gathered to hear her story. “Just another safety stand-down,” a Marine sighed. Then, silence fell over the restless group as the young woman from the video appeared in the doorway.

During what Marines and sailors with Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, II Marine Expeditionary Force, thought would be a “typical” Marine Corps safety stand-down before the Memorial Day holiday, Denise Wagoner spoke about her experiences with alcohol abuse.   She not only passed along a message to the Marines and sailors, but also put a face to the consequences of wrong choices.

Wagoner was driving under the influence of alcohol when she wrecked her car 13 years ago. The crash almost took her life. She sustained numerous injuries, including a brain injury and multiple spinal cord injuries, which resulted in blindness.

“I’ll never see the children I am unable to have. I’ll never see the leaves change color again,” Wagoner said.

While she strives in many ways to be an example of how wrong choices can reap consequences, Wagoner understands that seeing the physical consequences of poor choices makes the largest impact.

“People know that I am blind, but until I tap on these prosthetic eyes, they don’t realize the magnitude of what blind means. I can take out my eyes every night as if they were dentures,” Wagoner said.

Yet she finds some comic relief in the tragic life she has led.

“I lost my eye balls for six months. My cats, Lily and Cricket took them out of my hand and played with them,” Wagoner chuckled. “I didn’t find them until six months later.”

One CBIRF sailor thanked Wagoner for being an example.

“Your entrance into the battalion made a huge statement,” said Petty Officer 1st Class, Larry Pieper, religious program specialist, Headquarters and Service Company, CBIRF. “I know that the young men and women took something away from your presentation, because life is so precious, and you’re only given one opportunity at it.”

Pieper’s parents both passed away in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, which left him traveling from foster home to foster home at the tender age of nine.

“The lasting memory of seeing my father dead and my mother die in my arms is an impression I hope no one ever has to go through,” Pieper said. “When you’re nine years old and you’re laid up in a hospital, the realization hits you. Who’s going to take care of you? You become a grown-up nine-year-old,” Pieper said.

Wagoner and Pieper both agreed it’s possible to rebound from this type of tragedy.

“It made me who I am today,” Wagoner replied. “Years ago, I couldn’t say I was proud of who I was and what I had done, but today, I can say I am proud of who I am,” Wagoner said.

“Amen,” Pieper said.

Pieper thanked Wagoner for passing her story along to those still unscarred by consequences of wrong choices and commended her for finding the strength to move on.

“You do it, because that’s life,” Wagoner responded. “I can’t take back what I have done, but it can make my life better and hopefully help other people to choose not to drink and drive.”

Chemical Biological Incident Response Force