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Why Take That Risk?

  • Published
  • By Col. Larry Martin
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Commander
A recent accident here at MacDill AFB reminded me just how important managing risk is to every part of our team. While responding to a night aircraft emergency, one of our fire department tankers took a corner and flipped several times before coming to rest on one of the taxiways. Thankfully, the young driver was only shaken up, but the vehicle sustained substantial damage. As we examine just how and why this accident occurred, one of our most important questions is: "Did we take the right risk at the right time for the right reason?"

I have to explain to new commanders that our job is not to avoid all risk, placing safety above mission. Our job is to get the mission done. If our job was safety above all, we would never refuel aircraft with our tankers in the air as the "safe" option would certainly be to land to refuel. Our mission demands we accept those risks, so we train to fly, fight and win everyday AND keep our people safe and alive.

We often get to ask our people why they took THAT risk after an accident has happened. We ask a subordinate why they chose to drink and drive or why they operated a powerful motorcycle at high speed with little experience. Here on MacDill, we wonder why some of our neighbors choose to walk/dash across a busy street before daylight dressed in dark colors or why they chose to speed for that parking space in a crowded parking lot when spots were open a short walk away. We don't usually get good answers.

As supervisors, commanders and sometime just friends, we need to give our teammates the grace to know when to take THAT risk. Sometimes our choices are clear cut and simple--when lives are on the line. But other times, our choices are driven by mistaken perceptions, not reality. In fact, one of our most critical roles as leaders is to help our people know when the mission or situation merits taking increased risk. We have to know when to go fast, not because going fast is fun, but because our mission demands that we accept THAT risk. If our people must risk getting someone hurt or bending metal to get the mission done, you must make sure they are taking those risks for the right reasons.

We also lessen risk through tried and true methods like using common sense, training and adhering to checklist discipline. Commanders and supervisors need to reinforce their people's understanding that going slow usually allows you to go fast by eliminating mistakes and accidents along the way. Active, engaged leadership does make a positive difference by giving our people the best guidance to make the right choices.

You need to make that positive difference. So what would happen if your people went 15 mph in the parking lot or across the flightline instead of 35? What if they pulled out the checklist or the tech order just to be really sure as they completed a job? What would happen if they crossed the busy road in the crosswalk and wearing a reflective belt? Make sure you are taking the right risk at the right time for the right reason--we need all of you back for your next shift!