Related article: Squadron takes home Maintenance Effectiveness Award

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — With fiscal 2008 off to a rocky start, the U.S. Air Force must “get back to basics” in order to reduce aviation and ground accidents, says the service’s chief of safety.

“We’ve taken our eye off the target,” said Maj. Gen. Wendell Griffin during a visit to Misawa last week.

In recent weeks, the Air Force lost two F-15s in a mid-air collision outside Elgin Air Force Base, Fla., and a B-2 bomber crashed shortly after takeoff from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

Those two incidents have put the number of Air Force Class A accidents — crashes that result in death, loss of an aircraft or damage of more than $1 million — ahead of fiscal 2007 statistics at this time last year.

Griffin said the Air Force had 10 Class A accidents this time last year in fiscal 2007, with six aircraft destroyed. In fiscal 2008, which started Oct. 1, “we already have 12,” with eight aircraft lost, he said.

“I’m looking at it from the total safety picture, but in my opinion, we’re off to a pretty bad start” in fiscal 2008, Griffin said.

About 67 percent of aviation mishaps are attributed to human error, he said, “but you can find that across the board. Two-thirds to three-fourths of our accidents are caused by human factors.”

People make mistakes, don’t do what they’re supposed to do, or take shortcuts, he said.

“I tell folks when you hear the words ‘shortcut’ or ‘work around’, your antenna ought to go up.”

By getting back to basic maintenance and operational risk management, Griffin said it’s possible to manage the hazards inherent to the Air Force mission.

Griffin visited Misawa as part of his first tour of Japan bases since he became chief of safety nine months ago and assumed command of Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.

After Misawa, he was to visit Kadena Air Base on Okinawa and Andersen Air Force Base. He made a prior stop at Yokota Air Base.

Besides aviation, Griffin also is concerned about ground accidents. The Air Force loses between 60 and 70 personnel per year in such incidents, primarily due to private motor vehicle accidents, he said.

Since Oct. 1, the Air Force has had 15 off-duty fatalities, 10 in motor vehicles, he said.

Many of those fatalities are 18- to 26-year-olds on motorcycles, Griffin said.

Griffin has asked staffers to form a focus group of young airmen with the goal of developing ground-safety initiatives targeting that age group.

“We’re looking at interactive videos, gaming solutions, 3-D-type applications that insert airmen into scenarios where they’ve got to make decisions,” he said.

The wingman concept needs to continue to be emphasized, he said.

“I am convinced that the wingman culture ... is saving lives,” he said.

Leadership — at all levels — also plays a role in preventing accidents, Griffin said. “If the leaders are paying attention, if they’re walking the talk, if they’ve got safety on their scope and they’re talking about it … then their troops will pay attention to it and it will get better,” he said.

Safety meeting reinforces need for vigilance

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The 35th Maintenance Group is trying to stay a step ahead of potential mishaps. Maintainers here held their first-ever quarterly safety meeting last week.

“The pilots have always had a quarterly safety meeting where they get together and kind of take the gloves off and talk about mishaps and what they can do to prevent them,” said Capt. Chris Tooman, 35th Maintenance Squadron operations officer.

Col. Cedric George, maintenance group commander, “thought it would be beneficial for our senior NCOs and officers to have our own version of it,” Tooman said, “where we talk more about issues that directly impact maintenance.”

Maj. Gen. Wendell Griffin, U.S. Air Force chief of safety, applauded the initiative during a visit last week to Misawa.

“I think this is sorely needed, and it’s something that as I travel around, I’m going to mention to other folks,” he said. Griffin addressed the maintainers for about 10 minutes, talking to them about “the difference that leadership can make in preventing mishaps and saving lives.”

Maintainers at the meeting discussed accident trends across the Air Force and in the civilian world and how Misawa is faring in comparison.

“From fiscal ’06 to fiscal ’07, we had roughly the same number of mishaps, however we flew about twice as many sorties,” Tooman said.

A flight safety physiologist also talked to the group about fatigue, its impacts and ways to combat it, Tooman said.

They also discussed lessons learned from Japan Airlines Flight 123, which crashed Aug. 12, 1985, killing 520 people in the deadliest single-aircraft disaster in history. A flawed repair to a pressure bulkhead was found to be the cause of the crash, Tooman said.

The hope is that by discussing past mishaps and current trends, maintenance leaders can raise the safety awareness of troops working on the flight line, Tooman said.

— Jennifer H. Svan

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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