• Published
  • By Col. Creig A. Rice
  • AETC director of safety
Having just returned from a year-long Air Advisor mission in Afghanistan, one of the most mountainous regions of the world, it's fitting that my first issue of Torch as the Air Education and Training Command director of safety contains three stories that feature mountain adventures or mishaps.

I am thrilled to be back in AETC, back to where my Air Force flying career started as a T-38 instructor pilot. After spending most of my career on the operational side of the house, it's great to get back to my roots. In a sense, we'll be climbing a mountain of sorts together.

How so?

One thing that flying over Afghanistan's rugged high terrain has taught me, there is always a bigger mountain to scale and if you don't pay attention, you could set yourself up for disaster. For many of us, 9,000 feet would constitute a high mountain; but in the Hindu Kush, that is the elevation of many of the valley floors, and the mountains can reach over 20,000 feet. There are so many peaks and valleys there, you can literally climb forever. Ironically, safety can be like that ... many peaks and valleys, or even plateaus, but always another mountain to climb.

For example, the command just had one of its best years in both ground and flight safety. But to avoid plateauing, or worse, falling into a proverbial "crevasse," we must seek out the next "mountain" to conquer.

So how do we continue to reach these mountaintops? A simple concept that former safety gurus ingrained in me many years ago comes to mind: If it's tactically smart, it's inherently safe. In other words, the better you plan something out, typically, the better the execution is going to be. Conversely, if you fail to plan, you are setting yourself up for a potential mishap.

In this issue, for instance, there are three mountain adventures that are drastically different stories. In the first, a dad and his son go for a fun day of skiing but get caught in a whiteout at the top of the slopes. They get turned around and spend nine days in freezing temperatures and an unforgiving wilderness. In the second, a team of Airmen have set out to scale the highest summit of each continent. In the third story, an Air Force aircrew rescues four people who had crashed their helicopter into a mountainside.

As different as each of these stories are, they all have something in common other than their mountainous settings: In each case, "tactical" planning played a significant role in the outcome, whether positive or negative.

My point is mission planning isn't simply exclusive to the operational world or being at the pointy end of the spear. If we want to continue the positive safety trends we enjoy in AETC, we have to plan smartly -- whether going on a simple road trip home to visit family or heading out on a more complicated flying training sortie.

It's tough to condition ourselves to be tactically sharp all the time, but, together, we can strive to do so. I look forward to "climbing the mountain" with you.