This might seem like a nit-noid grievance, but I believe it is highly illustrative of a larger principle in society, and not just the military. Mike Rowe often says “Safety Third” as a tongue in cheek joke when he was working on his TV show “Dirty Jobs”. I fear he is saying what most people actually believe. The safety first mantra does great lip service, but let’s be honest…if safety first was really what we meant, then life would be a whole lot more beige than it is. Here is my example:
I am an AH-64D pilot in command and air mission commander with combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve commanded troops before and have been personally signed for around 950 million dollars worth of equipment over my entire military career. As a pilot in command, I am responsible for the aircraft, my crew and wherever the munitions land. As an air mission commander, I am responsible for the success or failure of the mission and any mistakes subordinate pilots in command might have made. Effectively, the US Government entrusts me with leading attack helicopter formations from my own attack helicopter, armed with enough ordnance to destroy an armored battalion in several seconds (or erase a city block). They trust me enough to lead that mission, knowing full well that an innocent mistake could cause strategic level conflicts (accidentally firing a missile at a target in Iran on the border). Many pilots operating in those theaters recognize the inherent risks of an innocent mistake.
So, with that in mind, we shall continue with safety first….
I showed up at my latest military post (base) and did the typical inprocessing activities. However, there was one more requirement than I was used to….a bicycle inspection. Yes. I was informed that I could receive an article 15 (not awesome) for riding my bicycle without it being inspected by my leadership.
As a student, my leadership happened to be an NCO who had never ridden a bicycle in his life. Like never. Let that sink in for a second.
As a society, we make a huge bluster about being risk adverse. We freak out about the smallest of things. We vacillate and take drastic action about vaccines and autism despite negative causation to the correlation….yet we completely dismiss the incredibly high comparative risk of driving a car, which accounts for 1 in 4 deaths by injury in the United States. I could single handedly started a conflict with Iran with two poorly timed finger movements, arguably a pinnacle of high risk. I am trusted to inspect my own helicopter prior to flight, and deem it flight worthy…on my own. However, it has been deemed too risky for me to ride a bicycle without it being inspected by someone who has never ridden one.
Personally inspect an attack helicopter and fly it: Safe.
Personally inspect a bicycle and ride it: Unsafe.
It is these examples which prove that the safety mantra is simply lawyer repellent. It is almost religion we blindly trust will keep us from harm. If I believe in safety and say the OSHA prayer all the time, then OSHA will not let harm come to me. Joking aside, if the same level of scrutiny applied to combat flight operations as it does to US suburb bicycle riding, there would be no need to have aircraft.
Perhaps Mike Rowe is right.