Complacency can kill

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- I recently reflected on my experiences during Desert Storm. Aside from some mildly interesting flying stories and being introduced to my wife in the chow tent (we all have to make sacrifices during war ...), my most vivid memories involved the SCUD missile attacks. Saddam Hussein used SCUD missiles extensively and since the SCUD carried a sizeable conventional warhead, SCUD attacks were a serious concern.

My first attack occurred during debrief following a long night mission. When the air raid sirens sounded, I followed the procedures I'd been taught since I was a lieutenant and grabbed my gas mask and helmet as I ran towards our shelter. After a few tense minutes, the all-clear siren indicated it was safe to return to the squadron. I reacted the same way during attacks over the next week or so, although my sense of urgency decreased a little with each "false alarm."

Early one morning after another late night sortie, I was just getting to sleep when the sirens blared again. Rather than go through the normal routine for what I expected to be another false alarm, I simply pulled my pillow over my head and tried to go to sleep. Luckily, nothing occurred that night, but I had unknowingly been set up and would soon relearn an important lesson. A few days later, the sirens signaled yet another attack, and again I ignored the warning until a loud explosion literally took my breath away. That night a Scud hit a barracks building near our base, killing 28 soldiers. I've always wondered if any of those soldiers reacted to that particular alarm the way I did -- I hope not.

Although our fire fighters respond to numerous fire alarms every week that turn out to be "false alarms," they understand the need to react to every alarm as if the fire were real. For the rest of us however, we must guard against the tendency to become complacent despite numerous false alarms. When you hear a fire alarm, I urge you to assume the fire is real until fire fighters tell you otherwise. It would be tragic if you were injured or worse after ignoring an alarm that could have saved you.