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When mishaps happen, will you be able to answer "yes" to three key questions

  • Published
  • By Col. Darren Sprunk
  • 570th Contingency Response Group commander
Serve as a supervisor, superintendent, operations officer or commander long enough and you'll experience enormous joys from unit accomplishments. With those successes comes the challenges of the proverbial storms that batter against your efforts during unfortunate mishaps. From one of my storm encounters, I learned the value of three simple questions. Along with the initial questions regarding accountability, they are simple questions that should be answered benefiting leaders at all levels, who also find themselves responsible for training and equipping our Airmen today.

Seven months into squadron command, our unit suffered a series of unrelated vehicle mishaps. There was a measured response after the first accident, but a second and third incident occurred in close succession and I was confronted with an alarming trend. In order to regain our positive momentum we conducted a safety down day, added focused training to re-accomplish selected core tasks and commissioned a small team to survey our Airmen and investigate unit culture. While I suspected a loss of focus, we did a gut-check on our training and evaluation programs. Coincidentally, the host wing and Air Force at large were experiencing similar mishap spikes at the same time.

The installation commander seized the opportunity to gather all group and squadron commanders to provide mentorship through this dark period.

He said, "After an accident or mishap, you must be able to affirm that the following questions were indeed true: Was the individual properly trained? Was the individual operating under proper technical order procedures? And, was the individual properly supervised?"

While incidents may still occur, a true commander will invest now so that the answer to these three questions is a resounding "yes."

There are a couple of application points for leaders. First, be uncompromising in sustaining a training program that demands safety and compliance. Be prepared to stand alone as training's vanguard against the deafening demands of mission's many advocates. It is a commander's responsibility to put the final stamp of approval on the end product, signifying the member meets standards and is ready to meet future challenges.

Second, tirelessly seek talent to serve in evaluation and instructional positions. While training is a long-term investment, the dividends you reap will outperform almost all other manpower investments. Additionally, it will benefit the entire unit by creating a safer environment while eliminating poor habits early.

Why share this message now? We're not enduring a stormy period. To an even greater extent than the Holiday season, summer moves and gapped positions will place a disproportionate burden on unit members. Similarly, deployments and summer vacations will compete for our focus. Preparation and training through the seasonal transition and critical days of summer are not only vital the next few months, but well into the fall and next year.

Following those stormy days after the mishaps our unit cautiously returned to solid ground without further incident. Interestingly, the engaging interviews produced some beneficial information, but the greatest lesson came from three simple questions. Whether you are in a season of inspections, transition, goods times or storm, these questions serve as an accountability standard for leadership regarding training, to which we are held responsible.