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A resolution you can keep

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kevin Eastland
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing chief of safety
The gifts are unwrapped; the care packages less frequent; the decorations are gone; those festive feasts at the dining facility are now memories; college bowl season is behind us; and, if you're anything like most people, so is that New Year's resolution.

They started out sounding so impressive -- P-90X, Insanity, or Cross-Fit, hitting the gym twice a day. My weight loss plan will have me shedding 10 lbs in no time. I'm going to control my spending, finish PME, or quit smoking.

It's two weeks into 2011, and I bet maintaining that new regimen is getting harder by the day. As the days get shorter and the harsh reality of winter sets in, those grandiose thoughts of self-improvement become empty words giving way to sleeping in, late-night cravings, and every other temptation that prevents you from remaining steadfast in your new 2011 routine.

Roughly 50 percent of all people make New Year's Resolutions. I'd be willing to wager that number is much higher in the Air Force where we thrive on setting goals and obtaining them. Of course, the bad news that by the first week, 30 percent have given up on resolutions. A month in and the failure rate jumps to 60 percent.

As Air Force members, stats like that are unimaginable. I won't list them here, but a multitude of reasons explain the failed promises. The primary culprit, though, is that it's hard. Maintaining a New Year's Resolution is a difficult task that requires time, discipline, courage and self-motivation. So why not pick one that's easy to keep and make safety a priority this year?

Safety? Yeah, I know, I know. Safety is a four-letter word to a lot of people. In fact, that was me until I deployed and became responsible for the welfare of 2,000 Airmen in a foreign country where driving might be scarier than Hannibal Lector in "Silence of the Lambs."
All of a sudden those life-saving, yet often overlooked, safety messages that we've all heard a million times forced their way into my daily vernacular. You know, the ones like wear your seatbelt, follow the tech order, use a spotter, obey the speed limit, don't drink and drive (not a problem here), avoid complacency, be a good Wingman, etc.

This was, of course, after we had a vehicle totaled and an Airman almost lost his toe in my first month on the job. That will get leadership's attention real quick (and Wing Safety's, too).

So what does this have to do with you, the Air Force, and a New Year's resolution? You're smarter than most, right? Mishaps can't happen to you. Believe that and I've got some snake oil you might be interested in.

On average, every day in the United States 15 workers lose their lives as a result of injuries or illnesses related to their work. That's more than 5,700 a year. This past year the Air Force lost 48 Airmen to ground mishaps -- each one a tragedy without prejudice. Our job is inherently dangerous and it only takes a second for a fatal injury to occur to anyone of any rank, gender, or age. Accidents happen, but most don't have to.

In fact, when you think about the Air Force, tools to prevent mishaps are present everywhere. One of the first things we are taught at basic training, Officer Training School, Reserve Officer Training Corps, and the Academy is that safety is paramount. Supervisors at all levels receive safety training. We have a checklist, technical order, or documented procedure for just about every job we perform. We are issued personal protective equipment. We're taught how to manage risk both on and off-duty.

We are bombarded with Websites, lessons learned, investigations, reports, YouTube videos, Airman-to-Airman peer talks, and just about every other technological means available to emphasize safety. Heck, the Air Force is as obsessed with safety as Perez Hilton is with celebrity gossip. And for good reason; every Airman, our equipment and our infrastructure are mission essential.

I think you get the point. We have so many safety tools available to us that a New Year's resolution focusing on personal risk management both on and off duty should be a breeze. We just need to wake up from our personal Groundhog Days and see what's been right under our nose for years: those tools.

The Air Force has made it easy because they've built safety into our daily ops. We just need to have the discipline to comply with the regulations, demonstrate the courage to correct unsafe practices, take the extra time to do the little things right - like use a spotter, and incorporate risk management into our lives.

I promise this doesn't require the pain of P-90X, the strength to pass up dessert, or the endurance to quit smoking. It just requires a safe attitude. So how about it? Let's make safety a priority and join the one in five Americans who manage to turn their resolution into a long-term habit. It just might even save your life or that of a fellow Airman. Now that's a resolution worth keeping.