CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 DERRICK HOLLAND
128th Aviation Brigade
Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia
As a child growing up in rural central Virginia, cutting grass was a good way to earn money to buy your new school clothes. One summer, I was cutting grass with my father’s help to earn a whopping $35 toward my spending money cache. While my father used the weed trimmer around the yard, I was on the riding mower. At some point, I must have hit a stump because the blade guard was now bent, preventing the blades from spinning. Needless to say, this stopped the grass-cutting operation.
My father, like many other dads in the area, was a proud shade-tree mechanic and came over to investigate the problem. As we’d done a number of times in the past, we lifted the mower onto its two back wheels. My job was to hold up the mower while he inspected for damage and made the repairs. He noticed a concave impression on the blade guard and knew it would have to be knocked out before we could continue the job.
Since time was money, my father went to the truck to retrieve a piece of 2x4 scrap wood and then proceeded to beat on the blade guard while I continued to hold up the mower. I was facing the underside of the mower with my head down so I could see what was happening. As my father banged on the blade guard, it was apparent the metal was moving back into place. He then leaned back to smack the metal once more. Unfortunately, this time he missed the mark.
The 2x4 slammed directly into my mouth with tremendous force. The impact fractured my jaw, busted my lip and pushed several teeth back and out of place. The only thing that kept them from totally detaching from my gums was my metal braces. I was in dental surgery until the wee hours of the next morning. And although I wasn’t evaluated for a concussion, I am pretty sure I’d suffered one.
While my initial recovery only took a few months, I’ve dealt with the after effects ever since. Due to the trauma to my mouth, I eventually had to have a dental implant, which included harvesting bone from my jaw — not to mention countless trips to the dentist, time lost from work and constant pain when eating or drinking hot and cold foods and liquids.
After spending close to 21 years in the military, where safety and the use-the-right-tool methodology are forced on you, I can’t help but think that this accident would have been prevented had I known then what I know now. Unfortunately, the idea of using the right tool, risk assessments and risk mitigation weren’t a priority back then. Today, as a father and a self-proclaimed shade-tree mechanic, I do make those things a priority — not only to prevent injuries, but also to show my children what right looks like.
As I share this story, I know my father is looking down on me. And I know he’d probably still be upset with himself for what happened that day. Of course, it was an accident and I never blamed him. One good thing did come out of it, though. After this incident, he was more cautious when performing those shade-tree repairs, especially when one of his kids was around.
I have shared this story many times over the years and I cringe every time I relive the moment. However, it does make me put safety at the forefront of everything I do. Just thinking about one of my children having to go through my experiences is enough to scare anyone straight.