U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Kansas City, Mo.
My dad was a dedicated Soldier for 31 years. While many would think being an Army chaplain is a piece-of-cake MOS, I witnessed firsthand how his Soldiers’ and their families’ pain weighed on him. Throughout those years, I saw him cry only a couple of times. One of those times was when he thought I, his youngest son, was dead.
It was the morning of my first day of second grade at an elementary school outside of Fort Bragg, N.C. I remember not being able to find my cool Spider-Man jacket and my mom forcing me to wear an old hooded wool coat due to the chill in the morning air. With three young children to get ready for school every morning, my mom was not one to argue with, so I didn’t protest too much. Once we were ready to go, my dad, in his dress greens, loaded us into the back seat of the car. My brother sat behind the driver, my sister in the middle and I was behind the passenger seat. We were all excited to start our school day.
When we arrived at the school, my dad pulled over to the side of the road. The school was across the two-lane street that we had crossed what seemed like hundreds of times before. In my excitement, though, I jumped out, ran around the back of the car and then into the street toward the school.
And then I woke up.
I remember being confused and scared by how awkwardly my dad was sitting in the middle of the street while holding me. He was crying and screaming for an ambulance. It’s a sound no child ever wants to hear from one of his parents. I also remember wondering why my feet were cold. When I looked at my feet, my shoes were gone, and I asked my dad what had happened to them.
By now, a crowd had formed and I was getting embarrassed. Against my dad’s pleading, I wiggled out of his grip and fought my way to a sitting position. As I looked for my brother and sister, I noticed a woman in the crowd who was crying more hysterically than my father. I instantly realized she must have been the person who hit me. By the time the ambulance arrived, I was standing and telling my dad I was fine. I still wanted to go to school, but instead, I was rushed to the hospital where several other chaplains arrived and lovingly put some of my dad’s pain onto their shoulders.
I later found out the woman who hit me was a mother much like my own, just taking her child to school. It was determined she was following all traffic laws and not speeding. When I was hit, I was thrown about 10 feet in the air, cartwheeling so powerfully that my shoes were thrown more than 30 feet down the road. Fortunately, I landed feet first, and that big, ugly wool hood protected my head when it struck the street. (Thanks, mom!)
The safety lessons I learned that day revolve entirely around risk management, which my family still uses on a daily basis. Child safety locks on your vehicles aren’t just there to ensure your children don’t open a door in a moving vehicle; they also enable responsible adults to keep their children in the vehicle until it is safe to exit under their supervision. Also, the importance of teaching children to use crosswalks and always look both ways is a safety lesson that not only needs to be emphasized throughout their childhood, but also needs to be taught through a parent’s example.
As a safety specialist, I know safety doesn’t start at work and end when I get home. I consider myself the commanding general of my own little household post and hold myself accountable for the risk management tasks of not only keeping my children safe, but to also acknowledge risks when other children may be present. When in a school zone, consider the risk assessment matrix. One should not only explore the probability of an accident, but more importantly, the severity of an accident. A catastrophic accident will not only take you out of the mission, but could result in one of our future Soldiers from ever having the chance to serve.
I will always regret putting my dad through that experience. Even more, I feel bad about putting that poor woman through an ordeal that she most likely won’t ever forget. After I returned from the hospital, my parents made me call her to apologize and tell her I was all right. While she could barely speak through her sobbing, she did let me know how thankful she was that I was OK. I am thankful, too, because I am here to serve my country today.
School Bus Safety
NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINSTRATION
For 23 million students nationwide, the school day begins and ends with a trip on a bus. The greatest risk is not riding the bus, but approaching or leaving it. Before children go back to school, or start for the first time, it’s essential that they and their parents know traffic safety rules.
• When backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch out for children walking or bicycling to school.
• When driving in neighborhoods within school zones, watch out for young people who may be thinking about getting to school, but may not be thinking of getting there safely.
• Slow down. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks in the neighborhood. Also, watch for children playing and congregating near bus stops.
• Be alert. Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic.
• Learn and obey the school bus laws in your state. Learn the flashing signal light system that school bus drivers use to alert motorists of pending actions:
• Yellow flashing lights indicate the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Motorists should slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles.
• Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate the bus has stopped and children are getting on or off. Motorists must stop their cars and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop sign is withdrawn and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again.
• Get to the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive.
• When the bus approaches, stand at least three giant steps (six feet) away from the curb, and line up away from the street.
• Wait until the bus stops, the door opens and the driver says that it's OK to board before stepping onto the bus.
• If you have to cross the street in front of the bus, walk on the sidewalk or along the side of the road to a point at least five giant steps (10 feet) ahead of the bus before you cross. Be sure that the bus driver can see you, and you can see the bus driver.
• Use the handrails to avoid falls. When exiting the bus, be careful that clothing with drawstrings and book bags with straps don’t get caught in the handrails or doors.
• Never walk behind the bus.
• Walk at least three giant steps away from the side of the bus.
• If you drop something near the bus, tell the driver. Never try to pick it up because the driver may not be able to see you.
• Teach children to follow these commonsense practices to make school bus transportation safer.
Note: If a child walks or bikes to school, parents should select the safest route(s) and accompany the child several times to ensure he or she can reach school and home safely.