by Monica Mendoza
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — It was Wingman Day July 14 at Peterson Air Force Base and Lt. Col. Dave Tuck from the 21st Space Wing safety office showed videos of people doing really dumb things.
Call them the anti-safety videos filled with “what were they thinking” moments. There was a teen-ager showing off at the swimming pool. He did a back flip and smacked his face on the side of the pool. There was a man who called over his friends to watch his swan dive — into two inches of water. And, then there was a real smart fellow who thought it would be a good idea to ride his kayak off a diving board.
But, before Airmen could proclaim, “I would never do that,” Colonel Tuck rolled tape of motorists crashing and flying out of car windows because they were not wearing their seatbelts. It was graphic and shocking and Colonel Tuck said it happens all too often. In Colorado, over Memorial Day weekend, police issued 10,326 seatbelt citations. From May 24 to June 6, 23 people in Colorado died in car crashes and more than half of those were not wearing their seatbelts.
This is summertime when accidents are typically on the rise, he said. He asked Airmen to think before they act as he played the videos.
“Don’t be stupid, don’t be that guy,” Colonel Tuck said.
Wingman Day’s focus was safety, including mental health. Gen. C. Robert Kehler, Air Force Space Command commander, asked Airmen to spend time talking about safety as he is concerned about the rise in safety related incidents and deaths among Airmen.
Since Jan. 1, the Air Force has lost 32 members, including active duty, Reserve, National Guard and civilians, to suicide, General Kehler said. In addition, more than 20 Airmen have died in safety related incidents.
“Air Force Space Command is a family, and the loss of one is a loss to all of us,” General Kehler said during a taped video message to Airmen. “These losses affect our families, friends and the mission.”
So, if it seems that there has been a lot of safety briefings this year, it’s because there have been, said Col. Stephen N. Whiting, 21st Space Wing commander.
“I know at times you can become a little jaded, about the amount of time that you perceive we are talking about these issues – safety, suicide awareness and being a good wingman,” he said to Airmen. “Why do we need to talk about this? Frankly, because the problem still exists in our Air Force family.”
In the two days before the 21st SW safety briefing, two Airmen died on the Autobahn in Germany when driving 145 mph. A third Airman remained in critical condition, Colonel Whiting said. One night before the briefing, a senior non-commissioned officer hanged himself at his work center.
“These issues are real, they are relevant, they are a part of our core mission statement and we want to take time to talk about it,” Colonel Whiting said. “So please, don’t feel jaded, don’t feel like we are wasting your time.”
Airmen are 10 times more likely to die in non-combat incidents than in combat, and many of those deaths are at their own hands. Lt. Col. Lisa Sayegh, North American Aerospace Defense and U.S. Northern Command mental health officer who spoke to Peterson Airmen at Wingman Day, said the more than 30 suicides in 2010 by active duty Air Force members is higher than the total in 2009, and it’s only half way through the year.
She told Airmen who are feeling depressed or stressed to seek help. It won’t hurt their careers, she said. She showed a videotaped message from an officer who sought mental health treatment after experiencing anxiety and stress after a tour as a surgical nurse in Iraq. The officer improved her mental health, which improved her work performance, she said.
“We are in the business of saving lives and saving careers,” Colonel Sayegh said.
Lt. Col. Allen Reeves, 21st Space Wing chief of safety, said it is half way through summer and the wing has only a few reported minor safety mishaps. He encouraged Airmen to stay focused on safety and to be good wingmen.
“We are not saying that you can’t participate in certain activities,” Colonel Reeves said. “What we advocate is risk management and doing things safely.”
Need help, call:
n Medical providers for physical problems due to stress, 556-2273
n Individual therapy, groups, classes through the Mental Health Clinic or Tri-Care, 556-7804
n Health and Wellness Center, 556-4292