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News > Commentary - Safety is Stupid
Safety is Stupid

Posted 5/14/2009   Updated 5/14/2009 Email story   Print story

    


Commentary by Staff Sgt. Bryan Vandersommen
509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs


5/14/2009 - WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Ours is an extremely bright corps of dedicated Airmen, by any measure among the most educated military forces on earth. One of the hallmarks of intelligence, you would think, is the ability to keep yourself from dying.

Yet year after year, unfortunate Airmen are needlessly lost to vehicle mishaps, drowning, falls and a variety of other such chicanery.

So what is the problem? Surely the Air Force's superior schooling and aptitude test results should preclude any possibility of unwitting death. Or should they? The fact is safety is stupid. Such a remark is likely to wrest more than a few gasps from the vocal cavities of upstanding, safety conscious blue-suiters from Robins to Ramstein, so an explanation is called for.

It is Airman-nature to be a go-getter, do things faster and better, go farther and do less with more. We like to believe we're good enough and smart enough to do it. And that is a good thing until it becomes a stupid thing.

Visiting your mom and dad is good. Seeing them more is better. Trying to get back to mom's house 2000 miles away, driving straight through in a caffeine-fueled, time-space warp is not simply unwise or to be cautioned against. It is just stupid.

There are many no-no's that we are repeatedly warned against as Airmen: don't text or talk on the phone while driving, drive slowly when children are present, don't swim alone and of course, don't drink and drive. These are all important and leadership does well to emphasize them, but disaster strikes for anything stupid and often outside the briefing bullet points.

I set my car on fire as a teenager. I believed I could change the starter quickly and move on to other things I would rather do like run around the block or dream of being in the Air Force.

If I had not been such a go-getter, I would have taken more time and would have likely ensured the battery was disconnected. Then the electrical connection wouldn't have sparked and set my beloved 1986 Dodge Colt ablaze.

I certainly would not have needed to sprint up to the second floor apartment for a pitcher of water, or spent days repairing rubber hoses turned to ash. (The battery was disconnected by the time of the dousing. Never throw water on an electrical fire.)

I should have known I might have done something stupid. I should have allowed myself the time to handle the unexpected. Safety is difficult because it means accepting one's limits. A job can always be done faster. It is always possible to go farther on less sleep. A plane might be able to bomb targets even if it's a broke, flying death trap. And granted there might be an occasion when it would be necessary to risk flying that plane.

But unless your Wingman's motorcycle riding or rock climbing is an immediate, grave national security priority, they will get along just fine wearing a helmet. Plastic will break when they fall instead of a valuable Air Force noggin.

It is about humility. Expect mistakes and give them the space to occur harmlessly instead of stretching things so thin that any misstep creates calamity. Someone going very slowly, doing only one thing at a time and taking nothing for granted, might at a glance appear stupid. But it's nothing to be ashamed of.

This summer, be stupid safe.



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