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Success Starts With Safety

  • Published
  • By Col. Paul Martin
  • 43rd Medical Group Commander
Mission, people, safety -- these three simple words neatly categorize all we do for our nation, our peers, our family and ourselves. The order of these words is not accidental. The mission defines our course of action. Our people are the resources that execute that course of action. Finally, without safety the whole mission fails. 

Within a military organization it is possible to have numerous missions, but it is critical that the missions line up across the larger organization. 

For example, within the medical community, our primary home station mission is to prepare the wing's personnel for deployment. This obviously directly supports our expeditionary Air Force in its mission to fly, fight and win. 

We are privileged to be part of a positive historic event: the disease non-battle injury rate in Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom is lower than they have ever been in the history of warfare. 

This success does not belong to the medical group but rather to the leadership at each wing throughout the Air Force and at deployed locations throughout the theater. While the medical community has developed numerous programs to optimize health prior to and during deployment, it is the leadership of the wing that implements it and generates the synergy necessary for mission success. 

Our people are the backbone to getting the mission accomplished. Each and every one of us must provide the leadership necessary to care for our personnel so they can succeed. 

My charge to my squadron and flight commanders is to take care of their people; in exchange, I will take care of them. For those in supervisory roles, this charge is easy to comprehend: provide feedback, complete performance reports on time, know when to push and know when to back off. However, this charge also applies equally to peers and subordinates. Be a Wingman; support your co-workers efforts to succeed. Those who have served overseas or have been in a unit when a tragedy has occurred know that the Air Force is one large family. We take care of our own beyond anything that could be comprehended by our civilian counterparts. Don't wait for a tragedy to develop that level of support. 

In our example of the medical mission, the whole focus is on caring for our people so they can accomplish the mission. Preventive medicine programs such as physical fitness help ensure our personnel are ready for the rigors of deployment. Wearing "battle rattle" in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees can be very dangerous for someone who is not fit. 

In a recent briefing by a former 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Commander, he provided a particularly poignant example. His Airmen were receiving increased mortar and rocket attacks. He ordered the wear of body armor throughout Iraq. Within 24 hours, 17 personnel required hospitalization. Upon review, all of these Airmen had failed their fitness tests. Their leadership had let down these individuals and jeopardized the mission by allowing them to deploy when they were not physically ready for the challenges of deployment. 

Safety has been a continual focal point for the Air Force for good reason. Anytime an incident occurs, the mission suffers and we let down our people. 

From a very selfish perspective, I simply want to see your smiling faces at work the next morning. To me a successful day happens when we all go home with all our fingers and toes -- preferably still attached. 

Operational and personal risk management are excellent programs to apply at work and at play. In very simple terms, are the rewards worth the risk? Driving eight hours after working a 10-hour day in order to get a few extra hours of time with family and friends on the weekend is simply not worth risking your life or the life of another driver on the road. The two most frequently cited contributing factors to fatal motor vehicle accidents involving Air Force personnel have been fatigue and alcohol. The risk is just not worth the "reward." 

In order for Air Force members to safely accomplish the mission, our leaders must know their mission and take care of their people.