KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, NM -- While June 21st is the official beginning of summer, Memorial Day weekend acts as the unofficial kickoff to the summer season for many Air Force families. The weather is in that sweet spot between not too hot, and not too cold. Many families are enjoying an extended weekend together. Friends gather to barbeque and take time to honor those who died while serving the United States. Simply put, it is a great jump-start for the season to come.
As Airmen approach and plan for summer activities, leadership at all levels should take the time to discuss risk management and highlight hazards Airmen may encounter during the upcoming months. The Air Force’s top three leaders began that conversation in a tri-signature memo recently sent to all Airmen.
“As you execute our Air Force mission or participate in summer activities with your family and friends, please use what you have learned about risk management,” the memo read. “Plan for the unexpected, make wise choices, and avoid unnecessary risks.”
The memo also emphasized how personal safety directly ties to Air Force readiness. Over the past decade, preventable accidents on and off duty have tragically claimed 16 Airmen lives on average per year during the summer months.
“A loss of life to a preventable accident impacts not only the Airmen and their families, but the entire Air Force and how we get the mission done,” said Maj. Gen. John T. Rauch, Air Force Chief of Safety. “That’s why it’s so important for Airmen and leaders to understand risk management isn’t something that you simply focus on part time. It is a method of understanding what your hazards are, mitigating those risks where possible, and accepting risk at the appropriate levels, both on and off duty.”
Rising temperatures lead to more time spent outdoors, traveling to enjoy family vacations, and increased chances of dehydration, exposing Airmen to more risk during the summer months. While Airmen commonly acknowledge these risks, they do not always register risks in the moment.
“Many of us tend to want to turn our brains off and relax when summer hits, however the opposite needs to happen,” said Bill Parsons, Air Force Safety Center’s Occupation Safety division chief. “Don’t let your guard down in the summer.”
Parsons continued that one hazard in particular stands out as often overlooked.
“Every year we lose Airmen to water-related activities and many times it’s simply due to lack of preparation,” Parsons said. “Airmen must intimately understand the hazards presented by water, whether it is temperature, depth, currents, or adding alcohol and sleep deprivation into the mix.”
Alcohol is another major hazard that often impairs good risk management. Over the last five years, 66 Airmen deaths occurred throughout the summer. At least 22 of those deaths involved alcohol.
“It’s not that Airmen don’t know that alcohol impairs their decision making ability because I’m confident the Air Force takes every opportunity to emphasize and re-emphasize that message,” said Rauch. “What’s missing is a well thought out plan before engaging in their chosen activities. Excessive alcohol, poor judgement, and summer activities with the lack of a plan simply don’t mix.”
Summer is a time that every Airmen should rejoice. The beautiful weather is cause to explore the corners of not only the United States, but also countries across the globe, as Airmen are engaging in worldwide operations. With those adventures come risks. Airmen are encouraged to have a plan, understand their local hazards, and practice good risk management.