JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. -- In 2002, 1.4 million people were arrested nationally for driving under the influence, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Unfortunately, U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Randall Renaud was part of that statistic. On Oct. 2, 2002, six months after promotion to technical sergeant, he received an Article 15 for driving under the influence.
Because of the trials associated with receiving the DUI, the 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron engineering flight superintendent didn't know how much his career would be affected. Through the years, his determination and resiliency allowed him to beat the odds and achieve a successful career.
Before the incident, Renaud's early career was on the rise, excelling at whatever task he put his mind to.
The Florida native enlisted in December 1990 as an environmental support specialist and moved to Hill Air Force Base, Utah. He soared through the airman ranks, and was awarded senior airman below-the-zone. He received his line number after testing for staff sergeant only once. He didn't make technical sergeant the first time, but aced the test on the second try.
Although Renaud was doing well at his job, he made one poor decision that put a temporary halt to his career. Renaud said he made adjustments to his everyday life because of one night of driving under the influence.
"It definitely changed my life at the time. I received a full bust from technical sergeant to staff sergeant," he said. "My license was suspended on base for a year and I couldn't drive off base for 90 days. It was rough."
Though he only drove a half-mile down the road, Renaud said he understands the circumstances could have been much worse.
"Only God knows what would have happened if I continued to drive," he said. "The question for some people is when does the slippery slope end? Is it a ticket, accident or does it take someone getting killed? For me, it was the realization of what I had lost compared to what I could have lost."
Renaud was also faced with the fact that he didn't have as much influence on his subordinates as before, which he said is one of the most important tasks as a noncommissioned officer. "I didn't hate my job; it just wasn't the job I wanted to be in because I couldn't help people as much as I had in the past," he said. "One of my first bosses told me, 'Take care of your people and they will take care of you.' When you're in that position of authority and you get busted back down, you really don't have much authority at all."
Fortunately, he didn't allow his troubles to discourage him. He decided to start over by going to work with a positive attitude. Renaud said he wanted to rebuild the trust of his coworkers, leadership and everyone who looked up to him before the DUI. In his rebuilding process, Renaud made an effort to deter others from making the same mistakes as he did by delivering his message base-wide.
"I spoke with a dozen [First Term Airmen Center] classes and commander's calls at various squadrons to try to influence people not to do what I did, and think before you drink," he said.
Fourteen months after receiving the DUI and reconstructing his reputation, Renaud felt it was time to move on and volunteer for a new assignment.
"When you get an Article 15, there are two routes you can take: You can take the route where you give up, or you can take the route where you try to rebuild yourself," he said. "I wanted to take the route to rebuild myself, so I needed a fresh start. I took an assignment to Yokota Air Base, Japan."
A year after moving to Yokota, he tested for technical sergeant again and made the cut-off score the first time.
"I blew it out of the water. I felt like, 'Now, I'm getting back in the swing of things,'" said Renaud. "I'm getting a little motivation behind me because I made [technical] sergeant back."
Renaud began soaring through the ranks once again, regaining his confidence with each step. He made the cut-off score for master sergeant his first time, and after moving to Langley in 2012, he tested for senior master sergeant. He wasn't too hopeful he would make the cut-off, but on Jan. 1, he sewed on senior master sergeant, 11 years after his DUI.
"Wearing senior master sergeant on my sleeve is something I'd never dreamed of back in October 2002," he said. "I was shocked when results came out. I was excited and overwhelmed with humility. I still ask myself sometimes, 'Should I be a senior master sergeant? Do I deserve it?'" Renaud hopes other Airmen who have been through any type of struggle in their career are able to turn themselves around, but there are three steps he feels are important to follow. "The first thing any Airman needs to do when they're down on their luck is just look at him or herself in the mirror and take responsibility," he said. "Once I'd truly admitted to myself that it was all me, [I was on] the road to recovery. Second, pick yourself up and set new goals. Third, find a good mentor to help get you back on the right path."
For Renaud, following those steps made it easier for him to keep pushing forward. With the help of his fellow Airmen, he feels everything he's gone through has been a learning experience. He said he is "amazed and blessed" that he has made it this far in his career, and doesn't plan on stopping. "I'm not finished yet," he said. "I can still help more people. I still think I have more to give to the Air Force." Renaud's resilience has allowed him to serve his country now for more than 22 years. Although his recovery has been a long process, Renaud believes what has kept him going is being a part of a group of Airmen who support him, as well as each other, each day to accomplish the mission.