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Safety - A Matter Of Trust And Responsibility

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Michael Gilbert
  • Air Force Special Operations Command Chief Master Sgt.
Happy New Year! I hope those at home station were able get a good break and enjoy the company of family and friends over the holidays. For those deployed, I once again want to thank you and your families for your sacrifice as you continue to do our most important work across several AORs.

Lt. Gen. Wooley and I got to see many of you just before Christmas, and we could not have been more impressed with the job you are doing and the incredibly effective way you are doing it. We weren't surprised - that's the AFSOC way - but it warmed the heart to see great Airmen doing such great things at this important time in history.

Now I realize that the topic of safety ranks right up there with insurance policies and the PFE for reading excitement, but if you'll bear with me a moment, I'd like to offer you a brief perspective on safety and its role in our lives as AFSOC Airmen. In a nutshell, it's a matter of trust and responsibility.

As I was thinking how to best illustrate this concept, I thought back to a jump I made the other day with a few of our Special Tactics Airmen. It was the first night freefall I'd made in nearly twelve years. As the Loadmaster lowered the ramp I looked out into the dark space under the tail of the MC-130. As the cool high-altitude air began swirling around the cargo bay, I'll admit, it was easy to focus on the role of safety in my life.

I thought about my trust in the maintainers who worked so hard on the aircraft to keep it in good operating condition. I thought about the aircrew, and how much I had to trust them to safely operate the aircraft.

I thought about my rigger. I had no way of knowing what was packed in my rig. I had to trust that a well-trained, conscientious Airman whom I probably haven't met, had done his or her job well.

As the time neared and we walked onto the ramp, I had to trust that our jumpmaster had given me a thorough pre-jump inspection and briefing. I trusted that he would clear the air below us of hazards and identify the right drop zone and release point so that we would have every opportunity to land where it was safest, away from wires, trees and alligator infested waters.

I had to trust that my training was solid and thorough so that I would know how to properly perform during each phase of the jump, and react positively to any of a long list of possible malfunctions that occasionally occur.

Finally, looking around at my fellow jumpers standing in the dark now bunched just a couple feet from the edge of the ramp, I thought about how much I had to trust them to perform properly and responsibly. There would be no do-overs.

As the jumpmaster turned and directed us off, my mind shifted from the amount of trust I had to have in others to my own responsibilities.

As we all stepped off together, I had a responsibility to gently push off from other jumpers I might bump into. As we transitioned into the pure downward fall and could see the lights of houses and cars nearly ten-thousand feet below us, I noticed the chemlights of a jumper directly below me. I had a responsibility to fly off his back - if I didn't, and his parachute deployed prematurely, I could kill us both.

As I approached forty-five hundred feet, I had a responsibility to again carefully ensure I wasn't over anyone else, then wave my arms vigorously warning anyone above me what was about to happen, and then a responsibility to pull the rip-cord as close as possible to four-thousand feet so I was less likely to hit anyone already under canopy.

Then the real work began. I had to ensure my chute was working right, ID the landing point, find my fellow jumpers in the dark and above all avoid running into them under (my/their?) canopy and becoming hopelessly entangled. It was difficult work all the way down. I did my best to live up to my responsibilities and trusted that the others would live up to theirs. We did and we all ended up safely on the ground within just a few yards of each other. Our trust in others had been well placed, and we'd all lived up to our responsibilities for our own safety and the safety of each other.

While it's fairly easy to focus on the trust and responsibility aspects of safety when you are jumping from planes, or on a shooting range, getting ready to launch an aircraft with spinning blades, or working on electrical equipment, there are so many other 'routine' times when the elements are just as much in play.

Driving is just one example. It is no stretch to say that you put a great deal of trust in perfect strangers every time you go out on the road, or that you have a tremendous level of responsibility to live up to their trust in you.

Take driving on the 123 cut-off toward Crestview. On that two-lane road drivers continuously rip by each other with just a few feet to spare in vehicles weighing thousands of pounds at closing speeds near one-hundred and thirty miles an hour. The chances of surviving a collision there are almost zero.

Yet, we trust the person in the opposing lane - a total stranger - to drive properly, and in return, we do our best - or should - to do the same for them.

Like it or not, as Airmen and citizens, we work and live interdependently. Both in our jobs and in society, we are forced many times a day to trust others with our safety. It is virtually unavoidable. Conversely, others depend deeply on us to act responsibility. It's a simple fact of life in today's world. I can be the safest, most conscientious person on earth, and still get creamed by someone who allows their concentration to slip for just one moment at the wrong time.

Inside this edition of Focus, you'll find articles on safety processes and techniques and concerns. Please take the time to read them and take them to heart, but most importantly - as we start the New Year - please take time to reflect and recommit yourself to living up to your responsibility toward yourself and others. Wee need you on the team, and others are trusting you with their lives everyday. Please live up to your responsibility.

AFSOC Airmen, thanks again for all you do - you are the absolute best of the best. Please have a safe year and I look forward to seeing you soon.