Safety is a combat skill

  • Published
  • By Col. "Tip" Stinnette
  • 39th Air Base Wing Commander
All combat skills require constant training and practice. Failure to do so amounts to the deterioration of the skill and, ultimately, the loss of proficiency. Our monthly Airmen's Time initiative is a wedge toward retaining proficiency in some of the things we need to train on and practice less frequently than our core tasks.

In the flying business, a core task is taking-off and landing, and our pilots are required to accomplish a certain number of take-offs and landings in a month. If they fall short of the required number, then we fly them with an instructor to ensure proficiency.

In maintenance and across all our enlisted skill sets, we require advancement through skill-level training with instructors before certifying an individual combat ready.

However, there is one skill set that is universal to all specialties and is often only paid lip-service. Unfortunately, the cost of periodic vigilance and lack of constant training and practice in this skill set can often amount to catastrophic mission failure. The skill set is safety.

We must endeavor to treat safety as a cherished combat skill that requires training and practice every day and in everything we do, both on and off duty. Our training often stresses the importance of safety on duty and many of our tactics, techniques and procedures are written in the blood of the mistakes and failures of those who came before us. Checklist compliance is one way that we seek to institutionalize these lessons learned.

However, too often the lessons of safety failures are only observed rather than learned ... especially when they occur off-duty.

As we become more creative in pursuing our off-duty interests, we often push the risk envelope without thinking through risk mitigation measures. Rock climbing, mountain biking, snowboarding, sky diving, triathlons and other cutting-edge sports and recreational endeavors add another dimension to safety and risk management.

We recently issued everyone Knock-It-Off cards and explained the concept behind the cards in the context of the work center. But when do we call Knock-It-Off outside the work center and how do we mitigate the associated risks of our off-duty interests? The Wingman concept is one way to meter and regulate off-duty hazards. We should never undertake a high-risk, off-duty interest without a Wingman who can help us think through the risks and determine ways to mitigate potential harm.

We recently had an Incirlik teammate break his ankle while rock climbing and another break his collar bone while mountain biking.

Both individuals will be lost to their primary duties for a period of time while recovering from their injuries. This ultimately reduces our combat capability and diminishes us as a team. Some injuries are inevitable, even with careful risk mitigation, but we owe it to our teammates to "play it safe" and reduce that likelihood as much as possible.

We will continue to be plagued by sports and off-duty injuries until we develop a culture of risk management and safety awareness that saturates our every action, every day.

Just like taking-off and landing an Air Force jet, we need to ensure we practice safety in all things we do, both on and off duty. Let us make the next 365 days our campaign to do just that!