GERONIMO! -- Jumping into summer

  • Published
  • By Colonel John W. Blumentritt
  • AETC Directorate of Safety
As kids growing up in West Texas, we used to holler "Geronimo" as we jumped off the barn into soft piles of hay 6 feet below. Back then we didn't think much about the consequences, such as what if we missed our cushioned target or what if there was an unknown hazard (such as a pitchfork) buried just beneath the hay. We only had one thing on our minds: Have fun!

Thirty-something years later, I had the honor of performing my first parachute jump. Earlier this year in Colorado Springs, Colo., Maj. Alex Cos of the U.S. Air Force Academy's Wings of Blue jump team escorted me, via a tandem jump, from 17,500 feet above sea level to the tiny drop zone on the academy's airfield. While the jump was fun, my thoughts during the 35-second freefall were different from my childhood exploits in the barnyard. Instead of "Geronimo," I kept telling myself, "Remember your training, do what they told you to do, and don't get hurt!"

Ahhhhh, the difference a few decades can make.

As adults, we tend to occupy specific roles in life that match with customary behaviors, attitudes and skills. For example, conventional wisdom suggests that truck drivers drive trucks, bookkeepers keep books, and cadets parachute from planes. However, when people take on additional or unfamiliar roles, a mismatch among behaviors, attitudes and skills frequently ensues. Consequently, when truck drivers must also fire weapons, bookkeepers must wear chemical gear, and senior officers parachute alongside cadets, the stage is set for intrapersonal conflict and qualitative role overload.
Studies suggest these conflict conditions link to increased mishaps, and thus, one could assume that Airmen accomplishing tasks outside their core competencies are demonstrating unsafe behavior.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

The Air Force embraces a universal tool that lessens the negative effects of intrapersonal conflict and qualitative role overload. Specifically, this tool is the embracement of a safety culture bolstered by risk management.

For example, many Airmen and their families are currently expanding their roles while enjoying the summer. As such, behaviors, attitudes and skills associated with vacations, such as scuba diving and operating a boat, are new and different. Yet, while the negatives associated with these risky roles may appear scary, it is refreshing to know that our Airmen and their families have been cultured to embrace safety in all they do.

Because of your commitment to that culture, I have no doubt you will remember your training and practice risk management in all you do. So, "Geronimo!" ... Let's "jump" into our exciting summer activities with a safety mindset. That way we will all be on our way to having a safe and fun summer.