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From DUI to BTZ: a story of recovery

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman River Bruce
  • 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

Mistakes happen.

For Airmen, some mistakes can be career ending and reputation shattering. Being cited for driving under the influence is something the Air Force has no tolerance for, so it naturally puts a forceful halt on any career.

(Former) Senior Airman Michael Kane found himself in the back of a patrol car after driving drunk in April 2017. Shortly after, as he sat in a jail cell and the buzz left his system, anguish hit.

“My career is over,” Kane thought to himself. “I could have killed someone. This isn’t me.”

Before this incident, Kane started his career strong for the 7th Comptroller Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas.

“I showed up very motivated and picked up a few ‘Airman of the Quarter’ awards,” said Kane. “But I began to become complacent in my performance fast. I was becoming the ‘show up and go through the motions’ type. In order to change, I needed a reality check. Unfortunately that came in the form of a terrible mistake.”

After the DUI, as Kane rode from the jail to his dorm room, he said he was disgusted with himself. He was ready for everyone in charge of him to feel the same way.

“This was the worst I’ve ever felt in my life,” said Kane. “I sat in my dorm and knew my first sergeant was going to knock any second and tear me to shreds. At the time, I wouldn’t have blamed him.”

Master Sgt. Salvador Garcia, then 7th CPTS comptroller, was a first sergeant in training at the time. He was building a reputation so he could wear the diamond on his rank that signifies all AF first sergeants.

‘Knock’ Knock’ ‘Knock’

As Garcia walked in, Kane was at the lowest mental state he'd ever been in.

“I was prepared for the worst,” said Kane. “After a few minutes and to my surprise, all the yelling and down talking that I predicted wasn’t happening."

Garcia spoke, "Of course what you did was wrong and there will be consequences, but never mind that. I'm here for you. I don't know what will happen, but we will get you through this.”

“The supportive and positive stance he took changed my whole mindset,” said Kane. “I went from feeling worthless, to feeling like someone who just made a bad mistake. He even brought me to a smile. I couldn’t even think about smiling before he walked in.”

Garcia was by Kane’s side whenever he needed it from that day on.

“I knew yelling wouldn’t help at all,” said Garcia. “He made a poor choice, but I was there to let him know this wasn’t the end. We couldn’t give up on him just because he made an error.”

Kane said the support Garcia gave him reflected in the entire 7th CPTS leadership team.

He was punished accordingly, but because of his ownership of the mistake, and his desire to turn it around, he was granted a second chance and was able to stay in the AF.

“My leadership believed the DUI didn’t define me,” said Kane. “So I began to make all my choices reflect the person I wanted to be, not the person who made that mistake.”

Kane started to show up early and stay late.

“I was so thankful to continue my AF career and I started to pay it forward every day,” Kane said. “I worked to become a subject-matter expert in finance so I can teach others and inspire them as well.”

While hard at work, he finished a bachelor’s degree in software development in his free time. He also started to volunteer often within the community.

“With the motivation I received from my leadership, I was always busy doing something positive," said Kane. "No matter what I achieved, the thought of that mistake was always in the back of my head."

One year after the DUI, Kane received some positive recognition.

He was recognized as 2018 AF Global Strike Command Comptroller Airman of the Year. This distinguished him as the best finance Airman out of nine wings in the MAJCOM.

“I saw this individual award as a team award, because I went from the lowest point in my life, and potentially getting kicked out of the AF, to winning awards. This transition would have never happened if leadership didn’t decide to support me and give me a second chance,” Kane said.

After this, he was then recognized as one of the top Airmen as a whole at Dyess in 2018.

“It was at this point that felt I had recovered from my terrible mistake,” Kane said. “Both of these awards came as a surprise, as I wasn’t working for recognition. I was working to prove my leaders right for giving me a second chance.”

Kane said his biggest surprise came later when he was selected for senior airman Below-the-Zone, which allowed him to put on his next rank six months ahead of his peers.

“If someone asked me after the DUI if I thought I could still earn a below-the-zone promotion, I would have laughed,” said Kane. “It seemed impossible to make that much of a turn around, but BTZ was a product of my leadership building me back up from a point where I felt worthless.”

In August 2019 the Chief Master Sgt. of the AF Kaleth Wright was visiting Dyess when he heard about Kane’s story. Wright took time to meet with Kane individually.

“He shook my hand, coined me and spoke with me for a few minutes,” said Kane. “I could tell he was proud of my story.”

They also spoke about Kane’s decision to not reenlist at the end of his AF contract and part ways with the military.

“I expected him to be disappointed,” Kane said. “He told me to ‘do what you want to do’ and that the AF supports my decision no matter what.”

Kane went through with separating from the AF and is now looking forward to continuing school as a civilian.

"Kane's story is in a long line that shows, with attitude and support, you can recover from mistakes," said Maj. Matthew Daniels, Kane's former commander. "He didn’t go on to become a chief like many of the stories I've heard, but he is destined for great things in the next profession of his choosing."

Garcia went on to earn a first sergeant diamond and helps Airmen to this day.

Kane’s story exemplifies that mistakes aren’t defining, and recovery is easier when it’s a team effort.