Safety Standdowns Aren’t Working

Leadership

After several aviation mishaps in just a few weeks, the Marine Corps’ deputy commandant for aviation, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, mandated that Marine squadrons take an  “operational pause”  to refocus on safety. This isn’t an unprecedented thing. It is a “safety standdown” by another name. Military organizations in general, and aviation in particular, have been enjoying safety standdowns, both planned and unplanned, for many years.


While undoubtedly well-intentioned, this operational pause, like most others, is window dressing. It is the appearance of doing something in place of actually doing something. This is a common problem when organizations have, well, problems. No one has a good answer for the problem, at least not one anyone wants to hear, so since the organization’s leadership has to look as if it’s doing something, it does something purely for public consumption.

For the uninitiated, a safety standdown, or “safety standaround,” is a strange place where a few hundred Marines, sailors, soldiers, and/or airmen sit around and listen to people talk about “safety.” Sometimes they talk about the actual jobs their audiences perform. In aviation, someone might talk to mechanics about “tool control,” i.e. “don’t leave a wrench in the engine intake.” Pilots might hear from a weather forecaster, telling them that “thunderstorms are scary.”

Other times they’re a little more generalized. Some audiences might get a procession of what I call “The Village People,” but instead of bringing us fabulous disco hits, they bring us stale cliches. A policeman comes in to tell troops to not drink and drive. A fireman tells them to not link a dozen sets of Christmas lights together. A biker tells them to wear protective equipment, perhaps a leather jacket and chaps.

Some commands just use the extra time to knock out all of their annual training requirements. It may say “safety,” but that’s no reason that information security, equal opportunity, and absentee voting can’t get their time to shine.

Some commands even think “outside the box” and have discussion groups to identify shortfalls in their commands and identify best practices. As hard as they try, though, they seldom accomplish more than making eight hours in a room slightly more tolerable.

I have to admit my complicity in all this. When I was in charge of my command’s safety programs, I tried to make my safety standdowns as interesting as possible, with elaborate scenarios in the simulator for the pilots and small group discussions for mechanics, but even I was forced to admit that there’s only so far that one can take the safety standaround format. You can’t spin gold out of straw after all.

The real problem with safety standdowns is not the intent. Senior officers aren’t imposing safety standdowns out of spite. They’re imposing them because they have no idea what else to do.

Some deny the importance of safety training. Safety training is actually just as important as tactical training. By way of example, for our enemies, shooting down a warplane is damn hard. Even a crappy SA-7 costs real money. Waiting for ill-trained aircrews to crash on their own is free. Non-combat casualties still account for a disproportionate share of the fallen, both at home and abroad.

But the real answer lies in more training. Actual training. Not PowerPoints and guest speakers. That's true for tasks both on and off the job. It's realistic combat training as well as things like motorcycle training. More training means more money. That’s something the military is short of. Safety isn’t a class, it’s a habit. Habits are formed by experience, not by a one-day “reset.”

Safety isn’t something one gets from a few hours in an auditorium. It’s the product of hundreds of hours of realistic training. Unless the military can give its people that, all the safety standarounds in the world will only serve to make good press releases.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Erick Galera

GENEVA/DUBAI (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said he was prepared to take military action to stop Tehran from getting a nuclear bomb but left open whether he would back the use of force to protect Gulf oil supplies that Washington fears may be under threat by Iran.

Worries about a confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted since attacks last week on two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane at the entrance to the Gulf. Washington blamed long-time foe Iran for the incidents.

Tehran denies responsibility but the attacks, and similar ones in May, have further soured relations that have plummeted since Trump pulled the United States out of a landmark international nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018.

Trump has restored and extended U.S. economic sanctions on Iran. That has forced countries around the world to boycott Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own.

But in an interview with Time magazine, Trump, striking a different tone from some Republican lawmakers who have urged a military approach to Iran, said last week's tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman had only a "very minor" impact so far.

Asked if he would consider military action to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons or to ensure the free flow of oil through the Gulf, Trump said: "I would certainly go over nuclear weapons and I would keep the other a question mark."

Read More Show Less
(Lockheed Martin photo)

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday he is appalled by a state DFL Party staff member's tweet referring to the recently-launched USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul as a "murder boat."

"Certainly, the disrespect shown is beyond the pale," said Walz, who served in the Army National Guard.

William Davis, who has been the DFL Party's research director and deputy communications director, made the controversial comment in response to a tweet about the launch of a new Navy combat ship in Wisconsin: "But actually, I think it's gross they're using the name of our fine cities for a murder boat," Davis wrote on Twitter over the weekend.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Air Force/TSgt. Dana Flamer)

TAMPA — Minutes before the Acting Secretary of Defense withdrew Tuesday from his confirmation process, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke at MacDill Air Force Base about the need to coordinate "diplomatic and defense efforts'' to address rising tensions with Iran.

Pompeo, who arrived in Tampa on Monday, met with Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr. and Army Gen. Richard Clarke, commanders of U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command respectively, to align the Government's efforts in the Middle East, according to Central Command.

Read More Show Less
Paul Szoldra/Task & Purpose

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — The trial of Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher officially kicked off on Tuesday with the completion of jury selection, opening statements, and witness testimony indicating that drinking alcohol on the front lines of Mosul, Iraq in 2017 seemed to be a common occurrence for members of SEAL Team 7 Alpha Platoon.

Government prosecutors characterized Gallagher as a knife-wielding murderer who not only killed a wounded ISIS fighter but shot indiscriminately at innocent civilians, while the defense argued that those allegations were falsehoods spread by Gallagher's angry subordinates, with attorney Tim Parlatore telling the jury that "this trial is not about murder. It's about mutiny."

Read More Show Less

President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan will "not to go forward with his confirmation process."

Trump said that Army Secretary Mark Esper will now serve as acting defense secretary.

Read More Show Less