11/19/2013 - Winter 2013/2014 --
You would think that taking the reigns as Air Force Chief of Safety in the midst of sequestration and after many years of conflict would be a particularly difficult task, but Major General Kurt F. Neubauer assumed the duties of his new role in stride. He said, "I don't think it's more challenging, but certainly recent sequestration and the ops tempo of the last 20 years put a twist on things."
Brilliance in the Basics
"Our leaders are faced with tough decisions in regards to resourcing and prioritization, and have had to make hard choices about which outfits will stay flying and which outfits will be grounded for a period of time due to sequestration," said Neubauer.
"The piece that we haven't really gotten to see yet is the effect on grounded units once they start spinning back up. A certain learning curve has to take place. Even with experienced personnel, skills atrophy. The book knowledge can be very fresh, but the actual execution--the blocking and tackling if you will--those skills need continual practice. An experienced Airman may have a wealth of know-how to fall back on, but recency is key. So there has to be a building block approach, a focus on fundamentals, to rebuild those atrophied skills."
Leading By Example
"There has to be consistent, repeated emphasis on safety at command levels, but also at every leadership level below that," Neubauer continued. "There are the obvious things that we do--following tech data, AFI guidance, and the like--and stuff we can easily avoid, scratch right off the top of the list, like don't drink and drive, wearing seatbelts, don't text while driving--common sense things. But it's leaders who lead by example, who demonstrate a commitment to safety that make the biggest difference. They walk the walk, talk the talk, and our Airmen listen, see, and follow that lead."
Omission or Commission
A majority of mishaps often include human error as a contributing factor. "People make mistakes," Major General Neubauer said. "There rarely is any ill intent, but they are still errors of omission or commission. The hard part is trying to quantify those errors into a human factors category. We try to identify and label, the best that we can, if the error was a decision making issue or a judgment issue. Too often, decision making and judgment have been cited as causal factors in our mishaps. We need to keep pushing that compliance is the key to successful operations, and ensure that's understood at every level: down to the wings, through the groups, the squadrons, and the flights."
Double Checks and Not Second Thoughts
"I would like our folks to remember the phrase double checks and not second thoughts," Neubauer said. "Because again, there are plenty of rules, processes and guidelines for what kind of gear to wear or procedures to follow whether you're riding a motorcycle, operating heavy equipment, or turning wrenches on the flight line. All those rules are written in blood. They are there for a reason. I would just ask our Airmen, all of our Airmen, to be in the habit of double checks and not second thoughts. That little bit of extra effort can make all the difference."
By the Book or Buy the Farm
Emphasizing the need to follow policy and procedure, Neubauer said, "There's a legend in the old days of flying--when an aircraft crashed, they'd say the pilot 'bought the farm'--because if a pilot crashed into a farmer's barn, the pilot paid for it--either financially or with his life or limb. After pilots 'bought the farm,' the mishap was studied to find out what happened and why, and we started codifying those lessons into our flying operations. Those lessons, notes, procedures and techniques are all codified in our books, whatever those books are--could be AFI or tech data or policy guides. The connection between the two is simple: we all need to remember that regardless of what we're doing, it has to be by the book or we buy the farm. This year, I'm asking our commanders to get out there and preach that we all need to be deliberate about doing things by the book."
A Worthy, Achievable Goal to Strive For
What are Major General Neubauer's goals for 2014? "I would like to see no deaths, no broken bones, no bent metal--meaning no preventable deaths, injuries, or mishaps for the year. I know that is a tall order, but it's a worthy, achievable goal for us to strive for."
"There is tension between the pace of operations and how that pace affects the overall health of our Airmen and the fleet--that tension must be watched over carefully, as it can have an effect on safe, effective operations whether they are ground, weapon, space, or aviation."***
Major General Neubauer
Major General Neubauer
MAJ GEN KURT F. NEUBAUER is the Air Force Chief of Safety, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C., and Commander, Air Force Safety Center, Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. He develops, executes, and evaluates all Air Force aviation, ground, weapons, space and system mishap prevention, and nuclear surety programs to preserve combat readiness. Additionally, he directs research to promote safety awareness and mishap prevention, oversees mishap investigations, evaluates corrective actions, and ensures implementation. Finally, he manages, develops, and directs all Air Force safety and risk management courses.