• Published
  • AETC director of safety
As I stood at the main gate the Friday before Memorial Day weekend passing out safety fliers and candy and reminding people to drive safely, I had to smile as I mulled over the irony. I'd always maintained you can't sugarcoat safety; yet, there I was handing out lollipops.

Indeed, safety can't be sugarcoated. In the past 10 years, from 2000 to 2009, the Air Force lost 680 people to mishaps. That equates to one death every five days. The vast majority of those fatalities occurred in vehicles. On average, we lose an Airman every 11 days to a vehicle mishap.

So on a stifling hot San Antonio afternoon, I did my small part as a wingman to remind people to be safe over an historically deadly three-day weekend.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are the actions of Jessica Mendoza.

On July 26, 2001, amidst sheets of rain and pounding hail, I witnessed an automobile strike a bicyclist near Falcon Stadium at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. The rider of the bicycle flew more than 10 feet into the air and crashed onto the asphalt. He was quite injured.

As I pulled over, I witnessed a woman quickly exit her vehicle and rush to the aid of the crumpled rider.

Before professional medical help arrived, this person took charge of the chaotic situation, checked the victim's condition, administered first aid, directed bystanders to find blankets, and then wrapped the injured Airman to keep him warm and prevent shock -- all under horrific weather conditions. Not once did I see her flinch as lightning cracked around the accident scene, nor as she was pelted by hail and rain. It seemed clear to me that this young lady was indeed a trauma professional.

So like everyone else, I stood back and did what she said to do.

However, after emergency personnel arrived, secured the victim and departed with the patient, I learned that this rescuer, then Senior Airman Jessica Mendoza, was not a trauma nurse, professional medical technician or a seasoned combat triage doc. She was an administrative specialist coming off an office shift. Yet, without hesitation, rain gear or medical equipment, she dove into an ugly situation and took charge.

My Friday afternoon efforts pale in comparison to those of Airman Mendoza, but the intent is the same -- epitomize the wingman concept and take responsibility for each other. And while Jessica's actions were nothing less than heroic, and waving the safety flag at the main gate was fun, you don't need to be a hero or a colonel to do your part.

Sometimes being a good wingman means telling your best friend to buckle up, or taking your roommate's keys after he's been knocking back a few.

And, sometimes, it's simply a reminder to drive safe ... complete with a smile and a lollipop.