Are all these safety briefs and safety campaigns meant for me?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Bill Stowe
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing chief of safety
Safety briefings, whether mandated from higher headquarters, given at the request of commanders and supervisors, or e-mail traffic received concerning safety, are a fact of Air Force life.

Most safety briefings utilize scare tactics, years of statistical data and PowerPoint graphics. We also have various safety campaigns lasting throughout the year: the Winter Safety Campaign, the Spring Spike Safety Campaign and the 101 Days of Critical Summer.

So why do we continue to receive these briefings and promote the various safety campaigns? Perhaps some personal experiences will explain.

When I was a young captain on a temporary assignment to Europe, we learned one of our Airmen failed to return from a house-hunting trip. The squadron members at my home-station aided local law enforcement agencies in the search. A couple of days passed before they found my squadron mate. He died less than two miles from his home. His car left the road, coming to rest at the bottom of an embankment. He left behind his wife and children.

A few years later tragedy struck again. This individual and some of his family were returning home from a trip. They were involved in a horrific vehicle accident that took his life. He was on terminal leave following his recent retirement ceremony culminating more than 20 years of active-duty service. He left behind his wife and as I recall, nine children.

Are there any commonalities between these experiences? All of the individuals received numerous safety briefings throughout their careers; in fact the youngest member had been on active duty for more than 12 years. They were successful Airmen, senior instructors in their specialties. They all had wonderful and loving families. Yet both died, even though they were doing everything "by the book." They knew what safety meant, how to apply the principles of safety, and how to be safe.

So what can we learn from their experiences? We must embed a culture of safety throughout all of our Airman and civilian workforce, both on and off duty. We must ensure preventable accidents are avoided and use what we've learned to increase our chance for survival when unforeseen events do occur.

Supervisors, first sergeants, chiefs and commanders at all levels must focus on safety to ensure our Airmen stay safe. We need to instill a culture of safety from the youngest to the oldest. We need to ensure the Wingman concept is utilized not only on-duty, but off-duty as well. We need to make safety second nature in everything we do. We need to educate through awareness, the benefits of being safe and the consequences for not. These briefings remind those who already embrace the safety culture they must remain vigilant. For those not on the safety bandwagon, these briefings are designed to change your culture to include safety awareness in all of your activities. All these briefings and campaigns focused on you.

For if you embody a safety culture; others will pay attention and follow. You or your Wingman will not become one of the statistics briefed in the future as an example of what not to do.