Summer weather brings with it the opportunity to get out and enjoy outdoor activities with fellow Airmen, family and friends. There is nothing quite like a warm afternoon on the beach, around the neighborhood pool, or even in the back yard showcasing your favorite barbecue technique, to make some lasting memories. There is no question about it – summer is a lot of fun!
However, each year Airmen or members of their family are needlessly injured, or worse, while participating in outdoor activities. Over the past 10 years, an average of 50 Airmen and an equal number of family members died in off-duty activities such as boating, kayaking, swimming, biking, riding an ATV, and general aviation. Today, it’s much more common to be injured or killed off duty than on duty.
How are most Airmen injured off duty?
Sports and Recreation: I’m surprised by the number of injuries incurred in common sports like basketball and softball. In 2016, the Air Force experienced 2,031 injuries in sports and recreation activities. Each year you get a little older and the speed and agility you had in high school don’t magically reappear each summer. Take time to prepare for sports activity with a good routine of stretching and warm up. It you don’t have the skills in a particular sport, practice or take a lesson or two – stay in shape throughout the year so you are ready to win when you engage in your favorite sport.
Water: Each summer a few Airmen die while boating, water skiing, scuba diving and, in more cases than one would expect, from simply watching waves during hurricanes. In most all cases, using a sound buddy system could have prevented these mishaps. Sometimes the calmness of the open ocean seems to challenge us to go beyond our limits, all in the spirit of fun. Unfortunately, the open ocean is terribly unforgiving. So stick with a partner, know your limits and most importantly, use the safety gear that can save your life.
Fire and fireworks: Every year, Airmen are severely burned starting their barbecue or from open flames. Throwing flammable items, like fireworks, into fires has the same result every time … it will burn, it will explode and someone will get hurt. Barbecues and fire pits are great for camping or enjoying the back yard, but both involve open flames. There’s nothing better than a fresh-toasted marshmallow, for sure – but respect open flames. And, prelight that gas barbecue.
On the Road: This one you do every day. It’s driving. Our hazard exposure goes up during summer because we spend more time on the road. From road trips to theme parks, to visiting relatives in the next state or on a far coast, or the call of Route 66, the open road calls to many military families. No lecture here, just encouragement. If you’re a passenger, maintain your situational awareness of the road. Help the driver. All of our minds wander and that’s deadly at 65 mph. And make a family rule of turning off the cell phone when you’re the driver.
On Sept. 18, 2017, all Airmen will celebrate the 70th anniversary of our Air Force. Over the past seven decades, we’ve seen dramatic reductions in on- and off-duty fatalities. In the 1950s our Air Force experienced more than 1,000 fatalities per year. Today we’re on a "Quest for Zero" when it comes to on- and off-duty fatalities. Zero fatalities from activities meant to be fun is easily achievable. But, it means that you must take personal responsibility for your safety, that of your family and your fellow Airmen. Use the same sound risk management techniques you use every day in on-duty activities to keep you, your family and fellow Airmen safe this summer.