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AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Four airmen from U.S. Air Forces in Europe have died as a result of motor-vehicle accidents this year.

That’s four too many for the command, which is spreading the word across the theater in a series of mandatory briefings featuring a mix of stark commercials and sometimes heart-wrenching testimonials.

“I wouldn’t call it a briefing,” said Col. Bob Wright, the command’s director of safety. “It’s more of an experience.”

Wright said the command hopes that every airman who attends a session will take something away from the experience.

“Even if we save one life, we’re doing our job,” he said after the last session Thursday at Aviano. “But I think we’re making a bigger impact. I heard some of them discussing some of the issues and that means they’re thinking about it.”

It’s not like there’s a shortage of material to present. Video clips produced in the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia and Portugal featured a series of topics related to vehicle accidents. Three testimonials were offered by USAFE personnel during the final session at Aviano.

Master Sgt. Michael Semon from the 723rd Air Mobility Squadron at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, talked about an accident he got into when he was a 22-year-old in Colorado. He wasn’t wearing a seat belt and was fortunate to survive.

Staff Sgt. Ricardo Zuniga, assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano, arrived on stage in a wheelchair. He spent more than a month in one after getting hit by a car while riding his motorcycle last year. He said if he wasn’t wearing all the proper gear, his injuries — resulting in a pair of metal rods to support his spine — would have been worse.

Gen. Tom Hobbins, the USAFE commander, and Lt. Gen. Rod Bishop, commander of the 3rd Air Force, both offered video messages during Thursday’s session.

Wright said it’s not hard to figure out who’s driving the message.

“Gen. Hobbins takes each and every death personally,” he said.

Shows at RAF Mildenhall on Friday, RAF Lakenheath on Monday and Spangdahlem Aire Base in Germany on Tuesday round out the tour. Wright said a DVD is being produced that will be sent out to smaller bases around the command.

Migrated
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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