CAPT. C. TRAVIS WARD
Oklahoma Army National Guard
We all have accepted the fact that if you are in aviation long enough you are going to bury a friend or two. We also know and accept that our friends might have to do the same for us. With that in mind, why don’t we do everything possible to prevent mishaps from happening?
Most of us have seen what happens in a unit when a mishap occurs. It gets personal. We have the memorials and say things like, “At least they died doing what they love.” We tell ourselves, “That’s the price of doing business.” Then we give the family a hug and get back into the cockpit.
With many accidents there are findings of pilot or leadership failure, but you’ll be hard pressed to find one that says the unit failed. However, “somebody always knows” pops up frequently in safety training or in articles written about accident prevention. And that is the point. How many times has it been said, “That is an accident waiting to happen,” which is great in the identifying hazards category? The problem is that’s usually where it stops and, more times than not, that accident finally happens.
The fact we accept aviation as a dangerous business needs to stop. Everybody takes the tactical risk seriously and the Army invests billions of dollars in equipment and training to reduce the lives lost in combat. Why? We make it personal.
Every member in the unit makes it their responsibility to negate the tactical risk. There is no way to know how many mishaps have been prevented over the years because of those efforts, but it is not enough. We keep having the same accidents over and over. Why? We don’t make it personal until after the fact. If you took the heartfelt, solemn condolences given to a family of “let me know if there is anything I can do” and applied it before we lose a Soldier, we could greatly reduce our accident rate.
Granted, we can’t prevent every accident from happening, but we can prevent some. As for the ones we can’t prevent, we can at least lessen the severity. By making it personal, every unit member can help reduce the times the flag is flown at half-staff because of a preventable mishap. Safety is part of our values, ethos and creed and should be taken to heart. We have to do everything possible to keep our Soldiers from needlessly suffering because of preventable accidents. Each one of us has to take the threat of an accident as serious as we do the improvised explosive device or manned portable air defense system threats.
During my 12 years of service, the toughest duty I have had was being a casualty assistance officer. It is never easy to lose a comrade, but when it is a senseless loss, handling it is so much harder when you have to watch a family deal with that loss, trying to believe that their loved one died for a cause. Once that family realizes it all could have been prevented, dealing with the death becomes that much harder.
There was no one defining cause, just a chain of bad decisions and the assumption of risk that outweighed the benefit. That, and if the unit would have made the personal commitment to mitigate the accidental risk like they did mitigating the tactical risk, would have made a difference. At least then the families of victims could have been told we truly did everything we could to prevent the tragedy.