Safety is a Combat Skill

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Robert Folsom
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Safety
All critical combat skills require constant training and practice. Failure to do so allows the skill to degrade which ultimately leads to loss of proficiency. The loss of proficiency in core tasks can be dangerous and have a disastrous effect on a unit's ability to perform its mission.

In the flying business a core task is taking-off and landing. Pilots are required to accomplish a certain number of take-offs and landings each month. If they fall short, they're required to fly with an instructor to ensure proficiency.

In maintenance, and across all our enlisted skill sets, Airmen require advancement through skill-level training with instructors before becoming certified as combat-ready. However, there is one skill set universal to all specialties that is often only paid lip-service. Unfortunately the cost of periodic vigilance and lack of focused training and practice in this skill set can amount to catastrophic mission failure. The skill set is safety.

The mission of the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center is to develop Airmen with the right skills, at the right time, to execute "Airpower from the Ground Up". To meet this goal, 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 we seek to institutionalize these lessons learned. Unfortunately the lessons of safety failures are often only observed rather than learned especially when they occur off-duty.

As we become more creative in pursuing our off-duty interests we push the risk envelop without thinking through compensatory mitigation measures. Rock climbing, mountain biking, snowboard, skydiving, triathlons, and other cutting edge sports and recreational endeavors have added another dimension to safety and risk management. So, how do we mitigate the associated risks of our off-duty interests? The Wingman concept is one way to meter and regulate our off-duty interests. We should never venture an off-duty interest without a Wingman who can help us think through the risks and determine ways to mitigate potential harm. An Airman who is injured during a mishap 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. One has to wonder how much thought was applied to risk mitigation prior to each event that ended up in an injury. Fortunately, the Expeditionary Center has not had any mishaps for fiscal year 2009 as a result of off-duty pursuits.

Further emphasis on developing a culture of risk management and safety awareness, instilled in our every action, every day, will help us continue to avoid sports and off-duty injuries. Just like taking-off and landing an Air Force jet, we need to ensure that we practice safety in all things we do, both on and off-duty.