4/8/2014 - JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- Multiple
sexual assault incidents, academic cheating accusations, sequestration,
less money, and people worrying about whether or not they will have a
job tomorrow are all adding stress to a force already being stretched by
a high volume of deployments. Since increased stress and distractions
are known to contribute to increased mishaps, the Air Force's chief of
safety has his hands full in trying to ensure these distractions don't
turn into more people getting hurt or equipment getting destroyed.
Torch magazine recently sat down with Maj. Gen. Kurt Neubauer, who
serves as both the Air Force's chief of safety in Washington D.C. and
the commander of the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland Air Force Base,
N.M., to discuss some of the safety issues facing him during his first
year in office.
Q: The Air Force chief of staff has expressed concern with
an increase in mishaps that indicate lack of compliance and decision
making as causal. On the flying side of the house, how are we addressing
these concerns in such areas as flight discipline?
A: Each major command commander is going
from tooth to tail looking at these exact issues. Really - whether
flight, ground or weapons safety -- it comes down to a reinforcement of
being brilliant in the basics. Whether it's a seasoned pilot or the
youngest Airman on the flight line, anyone can make an error. And if the
error is not caught fast enough, it can tumble into something
catastrophic. Regardless of how experienced an Airman may be, regardless
of what the phase of flight or maintenance work it is, there are
certain rules of the road that must be abided by -- not only from the
standpoint of being able to effectively execute the mission, but also
from the standpoint of being able to execute it safely. That structural
integrity of mission accomplishment and safety is all one piece. Safety
isn't a sideshow ... it's an integral part of performance. We have to
balance the scale of risk and reward. Even though we know we are going
to be executing a risky mission or task, we have to continuously offset
that risk with equipment, training and habit patterns.
Q: On the ground side, what steps are we taking to encourage
Airmen to obey rules established to help keep them safe (i.e., speed
limits, wearing helmets, strapping on seat belts, no texting and
driving, no drinking and driving, etc.)?
A: When it comes to ground mishaps,
leaders have to be present -- involved and interested in what their
subordinates are doing, not only their on-the-job duties but also
regarding what they are doing with their off-duty time as well. What are
their hobbies and interests? What are their long-term goals? Are they
enamored with extreme sports? We have to make each Airman understand how
important they are. Without Airmen, you don't get airpower. So they
have to not only train hard and work hard, but when they play hard, they
have to do it smartly and make those right risk-versus-reward decisions
so they can come back safely after their leave or long weekend and be
ready to get after it again.
Q: When it comes to safety, what is the Air Force's biggest strength?
A: Whether ground, flight or weapons
safety, our Air Force is doing a good job overall. You see that success
by virtue of the fact that we're in a very high-risk business, whether
it's in the air, on the ground or in the weapons storage area; yet,
regardless of where we work or what we are doing, the number of mishaps,
although not yet at zero, are much lower if you look at them in the
context of the sheer number of operations we have going on worldwide.
This success is a testament to the discipline of our Airmen, discipline
of purpose, discipline of method, use of tech data, and abiding by our
standards and practices. It's a testament to how we teach and train our
Airmen both in professional military education and on the job. And,
finally, it's a testament to the discipline of doing things the right
way the first time.
Q: How do we continue to improve upon our strengths and reverse any negative trends in the areas that challenge us?
A: It's going to take repetition. If you
use the gym as an analogy, it's about sets and repetitions. In the gym,
it's three to five sets, three to five reps, three to five times a week.
That's how you stay fit and build strength. Using that same philosophy,
we have to continue to remind Airmen, regardless if they are new or the
most seasoned Airman in the squadron, about good habit patterns and
safety practices three to five times a day, three to five times a week.
We have to get them to the point that they are thinking about it as a
matter of habit. Because when they are thinking about it, they talk
about it. Their actions will soon reflect those discussions. Those
actions become habit patterns. Those habit patterns forge our destiny.
And that destiny means mission success. So it's not only the initial
training of showing Airmen what to do and how to do it, but then going
back periodically and rechecking and refreshing that to ensure we are
staying on task, strengthening and building solid habits.
Q: Each year Air Education and Training Command basically
teaches "young pedestrians" how to aviate and graduates tens of
thousands of basic trainees - mostly teenagers - who think they are
bulletproof. What do you think is the best way to reach this group to
prevent mishaps and instill risk management into their professional
development and lifestyles?
A: They need to hear it not only from
leadership, but peer to peer. Airman-to-Airman videos (like the ones
produced at the safety center) are priceless. Because when an Airman in
his or her young 20s hears from another Airman in his or her young 20s, I
think that is incredibly valuable. For example, "This is what happened
to me, this is the mistake I made and this is the lesson I learned" ... a
lesson we can all learn from. Peer-to-peer feedback helps them to
understand there are other Airmen out there who are dealing with the
same choices, the same dilemmas, the same challenges. They are just in a
different location. And you can learn from their mistakes before you
make the same error.
Q: What types of mishaps trouble you the most?
A: Any preventable mishap is troubling.
First of all, our country invests a tremendous amount in our Airmen and
our equipment. So whenever we lose an Airman, bend metal or break
equipment, it's a huge loss for our Air Force and for our country. And
perhaps most importantly, there's the effect of that loss on family,
friends and co-workers. The real challenge is how to reach zero mishaps
... that's the goal we're shooting for ... a quest for zero. It's a very
elusive quest and although we may not see it soon, I think with
consistent reinforcement of good habits and understanding how to offset
the risks we must take, we will make good headway.
Q: What mishaps have you witnessed or reviewed that stick out in your mind?
A: There have been several. Any loss of
an Airman is tragic. But the mishaps that were clearly preventable
either through better decision making or by ensuring compliance with our
established methods and guidance ... those are the ones I find most
troubling. The real tragedy, though, is not just the loss of the Airman
or the equipment, it's the second and third order effects that happen as
a result of the mishap -- how it affects the families, how it affects
the squadron. I have dealt with grieving family members, and there is
nothing you can do for those folks to fill the hole in their heart after
losing a loved one. That's why I'm passionate about the quest for zero.
This is personal for me ... this is part of our Air Force family
Q: If there were a single thing people could do or a single
bit of advice you could give that would save the most lives, what would
A: Be fit, be ready and be able to do
your mission. And on any given day, if you're not fit, ready or able for
your mission, be man or woman enough to fess up and tell your
leadership that today is not your day. Take the time to recharge, refit
and reinvigorate, and then reattack that mission the following day.
Don't try to force things - it's not worth the risk.