Commander stresses importance of safety

  • Published
  • By Col. Tip Wight
  • 52nd Fighter Wing commander
Happy New Year, Sabers! Like its predecessor, 2009 brings a number of opportunities and challenges to the 52nd Fighter Wing, which will require our Sabers to have the sharpest edge possible.

The results of the Organizational Safety Assessment you all participated in during December are in, and I want all Sabers to know their inputs are heard loud and clear and very much appreciated. Kudos to everyone who participated - Spangdahlem Air Base was recognized for having the most participation and best quality in the entire Air Force, which is testimony to your dedication to each other as wingmen and desire to better accomplish the mission. This wing would not be able to grow and move forward without your honest opinions, ideas and concerns.

Fundamentally, what the OSA told us should come as no surprise to most of us in leadership positions. It revealed that you're working extremely hard, you're tired and burned out from working long hours and frequently deploying, you're undermanned in all areas, and in some cases, you don't have sufficient resources to accomplish the mission. You know you shouldn't cut corners, but feel pressure to make the mission happen, so about 75 percent of you feel like you have to cut corners regardless. Some of you apparently feel so much pressure to perform that you're afraid to call "knock it off" for safety reasons. All of this has led to a perceived negative "cloud" over Spangdahlem that's more than just the weather. Interestingly, this hasn't been the result of any single incident, but has gradually developed over the last year and a half to two years.

While this might sound daunting, the number of you that participated in the survey and the quality of your inputs proved you are very much committed to bettering the situation. I want to commend you for that attitude and this is exactly the "cultural change" I've been talking about in numerous forums. I want you to know that your Saber leadership team is personally committed to doing whatever it takes to bring about this change with the things we can influence here. We didn't get here overnight, and it won't be completely resolved tomorrow, but together we can chart a course for success.

First, EVERY Saber Airman--regardless of rank--should know that they not only have the right, but also the DUTY to call "knock it off" if their working conditions are unsafe--without fear of reprimand or reprisal. None of our Saber leadership team will knowingly ask you to work in conditions that are unsafe, and every mishap we have just puts us further behind or takes away people to help us do the job.

Secondly, QUALITY and doing things RIGHT are more important than SPEED or cutting corners. Having to go back and redo mistakes not only increases our workload, but also potentially compromises the trust that the Combat Air Forces have in our Saber Airmen and products. Similarly, if any Airman has an idea to make processes more safe and efficient, do not hesitate to offer them to your leadership. Some of the most innovative thinking has come from our newest and youngest Airmen, so please continue bringing your suggestions forward. Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century can be more than a buzzword--its intent is to make things more efficient, and in some cases, better processes can mitigate a loss of personnel.

Thirdly, if you don't have the resources or tools to get your job done--raise the issue through your chain of command. We have been fortunate to receive a significant amount of end-of-year funding and are generally well resourced, so no Saber should have to buy their own office supplies. It is our job to provide you the right equipment and we generally have the resources to do so--just let us know where they are needed!

It is clear from your responses to the survey that the major problem is a lack of personnel--everything else swirls around that. Our Airmen want to accomplish the mission, but feel frustrated and under pressure when there aren't enough folks to get the job done. Especially hard hit has been the Maintenance Group as a result of misapplied Program Budget Decision 720 cuts and all squadrons have been hurt by losing their command support staffs. The Air Force has realized these cuts were too severe, and help is on the way in the form of extra maintainers and civilians for the squadron CSS's--but they won't be here overnight.

In the meantime, we can help stop our "self-induced manpower drain" by making better choices both on and off duty. Sabers' personal actions can be destructive to the wing. Car accidents, driving under the influence, alcohol-related offenses and sexual assault are all self-inflicted wounds that deplete our workforce and slow our progress. Every Saber that is hurt or in jail as a result of poor choices just increases the load and lowers the morale of those who made good choices and now have to pick up the slack. Moreover, even when we are available, we need to be ready to work--good diet, proper rest, and exercise are important to making you feel better personally and better able to handle the stress we're all under, as well as being at the top of your game when you're on the job--and less likely to make a mistake or be tempted to cut a corner.

Finally, your leadership team will continue to prioritize tasks and elevate to higher headquarters when we simply cannot accomplish a certain portion of our mission and request relief. However, there are some things we'll simply have to do. We are a nation at war, and we will continue to get Air and Space Expeditionary Force taskings. There will be inspections as our Air Force continues to focus on compliance and "back to basics." The purpose of the upcoming Unit Compliance Inspection is to examine whether our wing operates according to standards - cutting corners is not conducive to Spangdahlem, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, U.S. Air Force or NATO standards. There is no question that Airmen at Spangdahlem are highly motivated and want to contribute to the mission. Use that motivation as fuel for doing your job efficiently and safely and showing the Air Force that Sabers are the best at what they do. "Saber Standard" means the rest of the AF can trust what Sabers do-- and it's the best the AF has to offer!

The bottom line is that here at the 52 FW, ANY Airman can call "knock it off" if things are unsafe; SLOW and RIGHT is much better than FAST and WRONG; tell your leadership what you NEED to get the job done; and GOOD CHOICES on and off duty mean more Sabers are available and ready to Seek, Attack and Destroy all obstacles and enemies we face!

Again, I want to thank you for all you've done over the past year and for caring enough to provide inputs that we can use to make things better for all. Please take some time to celebrate the holidays. Your Saber leadership team wishes you and your family good health and good fortune in the coming year! We'll do our best to bring "sunshine" back to the Eifel!


Col Tip Wight--"Saber 1"