By Staff Sgt. Don Branum
Academy Public Affairs
The Academy’s superintendent and command chief master sergeant both stressed safety during a series of superintendent’s calls held for military, civilian and cadet personnel in the Arnold Hall Theater Dec. 3.
Lt. Gen. Mike Gould focused on winter driving safety, and Chief Master Sgt. Todd Salzman asked Airmen to have a plan before they party, during each of the three sessions – two for permanent-party personnel and one for cadets.
“Safety has got to be something you think about all the time,” General Gould said. “We are not invincible, and we really have to think about that, especially as we get into the bad weather and the winter season.”
Weather in Colorado this winter has been colder than normal, with temperatures in Colorado Springs hitting a record-low minus-3 degrees Dec. 4 and above-average snowfall so far this month.
“Come prepared,” General Gould said. “If you don’t have your car loaded right now with a shovel and blankets and flares … go home and work on it, because this is a tough time of year.”
The general recalled Cadets Brian Bullard and Diane Williams, who were at the Academy when he was stationed here from 1981-1985. The two cadets were dating and had driven to Missouri to be with Cadet Williams’ family over the Thanksgiving break.
“They were driving back to Colorado to be back in time for class,” he recalled. “They ran into a really nasty snowstorm – one of those things that just pops up. They were somewhere on Interstate 70 in Kansas. They pulled under an overpass to let the storm pass … they never left. They died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“They had pulled up under the bridge, and the snow had drifted. They got cold, so they were running the heater. They didn’t crack the window; they didn’t do any of those things that hopefully we’ve all learned about and think about. They went to sleep and never woke up,” he said. “(Brian’s) mom, Betty, is still in town and is still a Falcons supporter. The most prestigious award in the Falcon Football program is called the Brian Bullard Award in his memory, but I wish Brian were still here to present that award instead of his mom.”
Chief Salzman’s safety tale was equally harrowing and focused on not knowing what might happen when one gets behind the wheel.
“In 1988 – Friday the 13th, in fact – my new bride and I were driving back to see my parents in Arkansas, and we were about 28 miles away, in Little Rock,” the chief said. “It was about 10:30 at night, there was a little bit of rain out there … We were cruising along, and I wasn’t speeding because my wife reminds me that I don’t speed, I drive too slow. All of a sudden, the car in the far right lane swerved a little bit, the car in the other lane swerved a little bit, and the next thing I know, there’s a guy standing in front of me.”
The chief had no time to react. His car hit the pedestrian at 57 mph, killing him instantly.
“I crushed the whole front end of the car, and I bent my steering wheel trying to stop,” he said. “What do you think the first question was when the police officer arrived? ‘Have you been drinking?’ No, I had not. I had all of my faculties.”
However, the chief continued, “What if I had been drinking? What if I had been drinking? … Nobody goes out to get in trouble. Nobody goes out to hurt anybody else when you’re out there partying. Think about things that just happen. Think about it if it happened to you and you had been drinking and driving, even just a couple of beers.”
Overall, General Gould said he was impressed with what the men and women at the Academy have accomplished in the six months he’s been here.
“So much of what’s going on is because of you guys and gals – active-duty, civilians, contractors; our permanent party, our Cadet Wing – everybody,” he said.
However, the general said, the Academy’s staff cannot afford to rest on its laurels.
“We’ve got a lot of momentum going in the right direction, and we’ve got to keep that,” he said. “We’ve got to build on our momentum as we go, because there’s always room to get better. There’s always room in a lot of ways, and one of those ways is to make sure the people of Colorado Springs … the state of Colorado and the nation understand what we have here at this Academy in the way of a national treasure.”
General Gould also devoted some of his time to talking about the Academy’s recent accomplishments. He highlighted Basic Cadet Training, which had an attrition rate of 3.9 percent – the lowest rate in the Academy’s history.
“That’s because a lot of people are focused on success, are focused on the support needed to get these Basics through – taking care of their needs, helping them chase their dreams and doing the things to train them the right way,” the general said.
Other major events included Parents’ Weekend, the Falcon Heritage Foundation and the Academy Assembly. General Gould called these “air show-equivalent” events because of the effort that goes into preparing the Academy for each event.
“Then we look at what you all pulled off with CORONA, Army week, the Falcon Foundation … trust me, I know how much work this takes across the board, in the (10th) Air Base Wing and in all the mission elements here on the Hill. But we’ve had nothing but great feedback from the chief of staff and our senior leadership, and I thank you for that,” he said.
Reflecting on the sexual assault scandal in 2003 and the religious intolerance scandal in 2005, General Gould said both problems stemmed from a breakdown of individual and institutional respect.
“We all have to realize that we come together as one team, and we have to respect one another,” he said. “The key thing is, we’re all going to make mistakes, but confrontation at the basic level – at the grass-roots level where it occurs – is the answer. If you’re offended, confront right there and say, ‘That doesn’t make me feel good.’ If you catch yourself saying something stupid, own up to it right there on the spot and apologize, then move on.
“Respect at the individual level will keep us focused on our mission and enable us to work as a team,” he added. “Respect at the institutional level will go an awfully long way toward making America realize what a gem they have in the U.S. Air Force Academy.”
In order for the Academy’s leaders to foster individual and institutional respect, though, they have to know about the state of the organization. Chief Salzman asked the audience to help by filling out the superintendent’s climate survey, which is online at www.surveymonkey.com/s/LKSBMVJ.
“In the last couple of years – 27 of them – I’ve been doing climate surveys, and they’re important,” the chief said. “They were important back then, and they’re important today. We don’t – and cannot – get our mission done if we have a culture that has no respect. It is so serious to us to make sure that everybody has the rights, that everybody gets treated with respect and that everybody is understood.”
If that’s not happening, the chief said, then the climate survey can help General Gould and other top leaders fix the situation. But first, leaders need feedback about their organizations from their subordinates.
“It takes a lot of courage to do that in some cases because you’re going to go out there and say things that might upset some people and might even upset your leadership,” he said. “Trust me: your leadership needs to know.” The survey is anonymous, so respondents can provide feedback without fear of repercussions.
General Gould also asked the audience of enlisted Airmen, officers and civilians to think about the role of air power in Afghanistan, especially in light of the pending troop buildup there.
“What is the Air Force’s role?” he asked. “There’s a place for air, space and cyberspace and all the things we bring to the fight. There is also … a non-traditional role in the combat support and combat service support arena that Airmen will continue to play – not to mention the transportation piece that is Air Force mobility-heavy.”
The general closed by reminding people to stay safe and take care of one another.
“Like the chief says, this is a wonderful time of the year,” he said. “It’s time to share things with your family and friends and make sure your family knows you love them. Tell them thanks for getting you where you are, and enjoy that time. But please, if there’s one takeaway from this session, be safe in everything you do – everything you do.”