by Monica Mendoza
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Col. Stephen N. Whiting gave two briefings June 25 that covered the timely issues of political activities, summer safety and workplace compliance, and ended with the 21st Medical Group commander and the 21st Space Wing director of staff getting pies smashed in their faces.
Colonel Whiting called on Maj. Stacey Vetter, 21st SW Judge Advocate, during his commander’s call briefing to discuss the rules of political activity for military members. The rules about free speech, especially political speech, are different for military members than for civilians, Major Vetter said.
“Some of the things we gave up when we put on the uniform and raised our right hand is the right to total free speech,” she said. “You have to remember that.”
Military members cannot use contemptuous words against the president of the United States, the vice president, the secretary of defense, any secretary of the services or the secretary of transportation. A real life example played out in the news in June.
“This week a four star general, a war commander, was relieved of his post because of these kinds of issues,” Colonel Whiting said. “Just remember, when we put on this uniform we are apolitical. We are without politics.”
Major Vetter outlined the dos and don’ts of other political activities, including campaigning, fundraising and displaying political signs. For example, when in uniform, a military member should not use official influence to solicit votes or contributions or speak at a gathering to promote a partisan candidate or party.
One thing all military members can do is vote, said Gail Whalen, installation voting officer. She and Senior Master Sgt. Lisa Gibson will be out full force during Armed Forces Voter’s Week, June 28 to July 7, to get military members registered to vote. Ms. Whalen, who spoke during the commander’s call, said military members who plan to deploy can sign up now for absentee ballots.
“Our goal this year, especially during Armed Forces Voter’s Week, is to get you registered, to get those absentee ballots, send them in and get your votes counted,” she said.
Since the kick off of the 101 Critical Days of Summer safety campaign, which began Memorial Day weekend, one Airman has lost his life due to a safety mishap, said Lt. Col. Allen Reeves, 21st SW Safety chief. Each year, during the summer months, about 20 Airmen die because of safety mishaps, he said.
Many things contribute to the summertime mishaps, Colonel Reeves said. But, one way to combat accidents is to talk through weekend plans with each other. He encouraged supervisors to talk to Airmen about their plans for the upcoming Independence Day weekend.
“Get away from the computer and sit down and find out what your people will do over the weekend,” he said. “Just the act of discussion drops our safety mishaps rate significantly.”
Sometimes there are areas of a job that are important even when it is not the primary part of the job, Colonel Whiting said. For example, practicing building evacuation might seem to take people away from their primary job duties. But, he said, it is important.
Colonel Whiting told the story of retired Army officer Rick Rescorla, who was the director of security for Morgan Stanley in the World Trade Center. Mr. Rescorla made the 2,700 employees practice building evacuation once a quarter. When the building was struck by an aircraft on Sept. 11, 2001, and many people panicked, the Morgan Stanley employees evacuated just as they had practiced. Six of the 2,700 Morgan Stanley employees died, the lowest number of any twin tower tenant.
The story, Colonel Whiting said, teaches that employees should do the right thing, “even when it takes you away from what you think is your primary job,” he said.
He asked Airmen and civilians to trust their leaders – including building managers and safety officers – when they ask people to practice their safety drills.
“It may not be the core path,” he said. “But, it’s important.”
Pie in the face
Staff Sgt. Melanie Curtis, from the 21st Space Wing Medical Group, won the chance to put a pie in the face of her boss, Col. John Sell, 21st Medical Group commander. The contest was part of a fundraising effort for the Air Force Assistance Fund, which ran in May.
“Are you ready for this sir?” Sergeant Curtis asked before letting Colonel Sell have it. She deliberately wore a Dallas Cowboys football jersey because that is the colonel’s least favorite team, she said.
Later, in the afternoon briefing, Al Strait, 21st Space Wing director of staff, got a pie smashed in his face. Major Vetter did a baseball-style arm warm-up before pushing the pie of cream in his face.