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Losing a servicemember

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jennifer Uptmor
  • 310th Airlift Squadron Commander
Every time we lose an Airman, Soldier, Sailor or Marine to drinking and driving, my heart sinks a little bit and I always wonder how the family is holding up. The recent deaths of our own Air Mobility Command Airmen has every commander wondering what it will take to stop this senseless loss of life.

I lost my brother to drinking and driving 20 years ago and there is not a day that goes by where I don't think about him, miss him and mourn for all that he has missed with his wife and children.

When I arrived at MacDill AFB, I was impressed with the Operational Risk Management (ORM) culture here. I saw ORM steps and posters in all the groups here and listened in as supervisors discussed how to apply and review risk analysis to their subordinates.

The highest level of learning application is to see if what you have learned can be positively transferred--in other words, have you taken this ORM culture home and applied it to your off-work activities? I'm convinced that those drinkers and drivers did not set out to break the law. I believe they failed to plan. They didn't assess the risks associated with drinking and driving accurately, if at all. OR, they had a plan but didn't follow it. All it takes is a few minutes to plan your evening and it can literally, save your life.

A few years ago, a very frustrated commander threatened Airmen with their careers if they got caught drinking and driving. I completely understood what the colonel was saying but all I could think was, "you are lucky if all you lose is your career!" My brother was a Navy pilot who hadn't been home in years.

He was catching up with his best friend and didn't have a plan for how to get home. His best friend was driving and Tim wasn't wearing his seatbelt in the passenger seat. They raced up a poorly lit highway and veered to the right to avoid hitting the car in front of them. They hit a curb they didn't see and it flipped the 70-mile-per-hour car. Tim was thrown out and killed instantly. Tom died a few days later in the hospital. They were both very successful men that left beautiful families behind.

I know some of you are still thinking that it's a sad story and all but it just wouldn't happen to you. I hope you are right and that it never will. However, you are the one this article is meant for because it happens and affects every one of us in so many different ways. Perhaps you will be the supervisor or commander when you are faced with this event. What will you do? What could you have done to prevent it? In flying mishap briefs, we gather our aviators to discuss the "error chain" in order to learn and prevent the same sequence from happening again. We also acknowledge that with every loss of life a little bit of every one of us is responsible too. What if ... you could have taught them the instrument procedure that would have prevented them from crashing? What if ... you could have talked to him about his plans for the party?

MacDill AFB is such a great assignment--the leadership, the team, the location! The holidays are approaching and there is much fun waiting for all of us. Just like every other commander on this base, I would like to see every one of us get through the Holiday season safely. If you ever find yourself in a bad situation, any one of us would come and get you and take you home--no questions asked.

A promise I make to the 310th Airlift Squadron and one I now offer to all of you. Take care!