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Think safety: Proven methods help avert tragedy

Every Airman is the Air Forces’ most valuable asset. Be sure to wear personal protection equipment when handling certain tasks. Safety is the key to a successful mission. Checklists and technical order adherence are critical elements of Air Force culture. Disregard for orders and established procedures can have disastrous consequences and result in fatalities that are otherwise 100 percent preventable. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes)

Every Airman is the Air Forces’ most valuable asset. Be sure to wear personal protection equipment when handling certain tasks. Safety is the key to a successful mission. Checklists and technical order adherence are critical elements of Air Force culture. Disregard for orders and established procedures can have disastrous consequences and result in fatalities that are otherwise 100 percent preventable. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes)

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- From the time the Wright Brothers invented the airplane, to the successful flight of the first unmanned aerial vehicle, the path to advancement has been paved with trial and error. In the U.S. Air Force, the ability to learn from those mistakes and take steps to correct them can mean the difference between life and death.

Checklists and technical order adherence are critical elements of Air Force culture. Disregard for orders and established procedures can have disastrous consequences and result in fatalities that are otherwise 100 percent preventable.

"Checklists and technical orders codify best practices that, when followed, mitigate risk in both routine and dynamic tasks," said General Gary North, Pacific Air Forces commander. "Technical orders, checklist usage and compliance apply to inexperienced and experienced Airmen alike."

"Although it is critical to teach and enforce adherence to our inexperienced Airmen, it is equally important that our experienced Airmen continue to visibly and actively refer to their checklists and technical orders," he continued. "Risks must be understood and actively combated."

Every Airman is essential to the fulfillment of the Air Force mission. Regardless of occupation, each individual plays a pivotal role in enabling operations to run smoothly and successfully.

"Safety is about preserving combat capability," said Lt. Col. William Percival, newly appointed 36th Wing chief of safety. "It's not about telling people what they can and cannot do, slowing them down and getting in their way; it's about being able to do the mission. Whatever your task is, it is combat essential. It allows us to do the things we are in a unique position to do."

Notes, cautions and warnings provide additional guidance and are included in applicable technical orders and checklists. When present, these supplements contain important information and should be considered paramount to the safe completion of a task.

When a new aircraft comes off the line, its technical order typically doesn't have any warnings. Generally, there will be a couple cautions and a few notes. The warnings appear more gradually, after years and years of use, trial, error and tragedy. Warnings symbolize someone who had to learn the hard way; they are written in blood, Colonel Percival said.

"In my opinion, for us to ignore this information is criminal," he continued. "You have to learn when those tragedies occur and apply them so we can preserve lives. Losses in combat happen. Many of us have experienced that first-hand. But when our own negligence causes a loss, it's unacceptable. Preventing these senseless occurrences is what the safety fight is all about."

Integrity, service and excellence have been an integral part of Air Force culture since its inception. These core values are instilled in Airmen from the first day of basic military training, calling each to a higher standard of accountability.

"Redouble your efforts and adhere to checklists and technical orders," General North said. "Follow best practices and proven methods and help us avert tragedy. I value your individual and collective efforts to sharpen the sword."