Commander ‘reflects’ on safety

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- This is not just another reflective belt commentary. I'm not going to debate if it's a good idea or not to join the Facebook "I Hate Reflective Belts" group (It's probably not, but they do have some funny photos). Nor am I going to discuss the wisdom of your supervisor downrange who wrote you a letter of reprimand for not wearing your belt on the five-step walk from your tent to the restroom. We all know that light from a car's headlights will bounce back from the belt to the driver increasing visibility and making it less likely that we become road-kill. This story is about how my reflective belt did just that and saved a life.

I was at Ramstein AB, Germany, a week before Christmas. My daughter and I had gone into the BX and while in the store she was unusually well behaved despite being 3 years old, hungry, tired and missing her father who was deployed to Afghanistan. For once, she didn't bug me to purchase everything in sight and we managed to get in and out of the store in record time.

On our way out the door I paused to snap on my snazzy yellow reflective belt even though we only had a few feet to walk to get to the car. As I was putting it on she looked up and asked if she could wear it. I guess to a preschooler it must have looked cool. I hesitated for a minute with the thought that I hoped none of my supervision was around to "catch" me not wearing it myself. Since she had been so good in the store I acquiesced and let her wear it into the parking lot.

My car was parked a few spots from the door, which was amazing luck that time of the year, especially given the poor weather. As we walked up to it, a woman with two small children in a stroller stopped me for directions to the passenger terminal. She had found her way to the BX but couldn't figure out how to get back. As I pointed and gestured my way through directions and expressed empathy with her situation, I let go of my daughter's hand.

In a split second she darted toward my car just a few feet away as another car was pulling into the empty space beside it. The driver stopped literally inches away from running her over. Three strangers, the woman driving, the one needing directions and I all cried that night in the parking lot as we each hugged our children tight. It's been more than three years, and it is still difficult for me to talk about what happened. I don't know why my daughter asked to wear my reflective belt, but I do know if she hadn't she would have died that night.

My intent is not to compare the decision making abilities of Air Force members to that of a 3 year old. Much like vehicle seatbelts and bike helmets, please take a moment to stop and strap on a reflective belt regardless of how short or benign you expect your trip will be. Build the habit and you'll have it on when you need it.