Here’s an Example of How to Not Create a Positive Safety Culture


This isn’t a huge story, but it manages to reveal a lot about what has become of the Air Force’s service culture over the past several years. It’s exactly this kind of buffoonish misprioritization — in this case censorship at the expense of safety — that has airmen running for the exits, with the most intelligent and discerning at the front of the line.

Here’s an excerpt from an email provided to JQP. (It’s also the subject of a subreddit). We’ve been able to verify this actually happened, and that the email was sent by someone in a senior unit leadership role.

So we have a situation where there was a safety compromise of some sort at the Commando gym at Hurlburt, and the first concern of the chain of command is not the existence of a hazard that could result in injury to those using the facility — especially if their chosen method of working out is improper and therefore exacerbates the hazard. These are mere footnotes to the core message … which is basically about shutting down the video before it embarrasses the Air Force.

The core message is complete with a coercive threat of punishment in the form of “paperwork.” Look no further for a perfectly crystalline example of the misuse of administrative tools. Statements of counseling, admonition, and reprimand are meant to be constructive tools to rehabilitate airmen … not punishments to tar them for disobedience. This “leader” isn’t alone in getting it wrong … and in fact s/he is part of the predominating culture.

The bigger problem is that this isn’t a lawful order and therefore cannot be used as a foundation to punish disobedience. There is no valid rationale to restrict release of the video (at least none stated here). This is one SNCO’s preference, and last I checked we’re not allowed to substitute personal preferences for rules. Again, this person is exemplifying the culture, which is far more troubling than if s/he were individually misguided.

But here’s the kicker: if you really want to create a culture that puts safety in the driver’s seat, you actually¬†want the video to be disseminated, so airmen see the hazard and talk about it amongst themselves. This raises awareness and highlights risk. If your ego or sensitivity can’t countenance the level of disclosure and transparency necessary to keep your people safe, you’re in the wrong line of work.

I could go on, but better to let crowdsourcing do the rest. Here’s a particularly insightful response from one reddit commenter. Feel free to add your own in the comments below. Oh, and if you have the video, please send it to usafwatchdog@gmail.com.


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