• Published
  • AETC director of safety
The phrase "respondeat superior," which is Latin for "let the master answer," isn't one of those buzz-phrases you frequently hear around Air Force circles.
But employers and their lawyers are quite familiar with this key legal doctrine.

Respondeat superior is complicated, but in a nutshell, it is a provision by which employers may be held financially responsible for the actions of their at-work employees. For example, if a lackadaisical pizza delivery driver negligently runs over one of our Airmen, the company the driver works for may have to pay for the injuries.

Smart employers, who realize they may be held answerable for careless actions performed by employees, are well served by bolstering a culture of safety. These wise leaders attempt to detect deficiencies in the area of safety during the recruiting, interviewing and probationary periods of employment. Once employees are accepted into an organization, they are immediately immersed in mishap prevention programs. Anyone unable to adapt is eliminated.

Few Air Force commanders, supervisors or Airmen are familiar with respondeat superior doctrine. Yet members of our team embrace the concept of accountability, which is a loftier mindset. Indeed, Air Force "masters" must answer well beyond the financial liability that burdens their downtown counterparts.

AETC recruiters and early mentors, such as military training leaders and flight instructors, are accountable 
for identifying those with 
a propensity for unsafe behavior. Traffic citations, alcohol related incidents, and even financial irresponsibility can be indicative of inadaptability for military service or a flying career. 
Air Force recruiters, trainers and educators must be prepared to answer for people they bring into the organization and for those they send forward for expeditionary duties.

Commanders and senior-level leaders retain a similar but higher burden 
of responsibility and accountability -- even when they are not directly in control. Following the collision of the USS Frank E. Evans with an Australian aircraft carrier in 1969, Cmdr. Albert S. McLemore was held accountable for the 
massive loss of life, according to the Los Angeles Times, even though he was asleep in his quarters.

AETC Commander Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz, when emphasizing accountability, frequently references an earlier collision at sea between the USS Hobson and USS Wasp. He cites a 1952 Wall Street Journal editorial that, in part, reads, "The captain of a ship, like the captain of a state, is given honor and privileges and trust beyond any other men. But let him set the wrong course, let him touch ground, let him bring disaster to his ship or to his men, and he must answer for what he has done."

If the "master" must answer in the world of commerce, then the wise business owner should influence employees and shape a desired culture that will limit carelessness and costly accidents. Military professionals, for different reasons, must do the same.

The business owner leverages this stance to protect profits.

Air Force leaders do so, above and beyond, to protect the nation.