3,000 expected at Misawa's winter awareness briefings
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — More than 3,000 military personnel and Defense Department civilians are expected to attend the base’s 11th annual winter awareness briefings this week in Richard Bong Theater.
Topics during the hourlong presentation from a cross-section of base agencies include winter sports injuries, snow-removal policies, winter driving, signs of cold-weather injuries and proper planning and gear for outdoor winter excursions.
Military officials will remind base residents to avoid standing under icicles while clearing them from rooftop edges, wear a helmet while skiing or snowboarding, slow down on wintry roads, do the “Misawa shuffle” while walking on ice and by all means, turn off the snow blower before unclogging it.
It’s common-sense advice based on the type and pattern of injuries seen during Misawa’s infamous winters, which typically average about 125 inches of snow annually and a fair dose of black ice and bitter winds.
During a practice run last week, base officials quickly drove home the need for the briefings, pointing out that Misawa’s winters in the past decade have claimed the lives of several from the base community. Those fatalities include three airmen who in 1996 improperly used a propane stove and died their sleep while camping in the Hakkoda mountains. Another airman died in a 2001 vehicle crash that also killed a local resident.
“We’ve been fortunate lately, but it’s not a reason to think it won’t happen again,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth Madura, 35th Fighter Wing chief of safety.
After a steep increase last winter in traffic crashes both on and off base, the briefings will focus particularly on winter driving safety.
“The message is, ‘Slow down, make sure you have the right equipment on your vehicle, try to make sure you’re driving for conditions,’” Madura said.
From November 2004 to April 2005, 390 minor traffic wrecks were reported involving Americans assigned to Misawa — an average of more than two a day — and 28 major crashes involving injuries. Most were due to “driving too fast, too close or not having a vehicle prepared for road conditions,” Madura said.
Slips, trips and falls typically are among leading causes of winter-related emergency room visits, followed by skiing and snowboarding injuries and snow-blower mishaps, medical officials said.
The briefings are scheduled four times daily, at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. They’re mandatory for all active-duty military personnel and DOD civilians assigned to Misawa. Base officials also encourage family members to attend.
A briefing for dependents only is set for 1 p.m. Nov. 18 in the Tohoku Enlisted Club ballroom. A make-up briefing also will be held at 4:30 p.m. that day in the same location.