What the 101 Critical Days of Summer mean to me

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Michael Laughton
  • 459th ARW
As a pre-teen in the late 50's, the first day of summer meant no school for an eternity. 

The schoolbooks teachers said I could keep all conveniently got lost on the way home. Summers were mostly about doing chores in the morning, followed by being chased out of the house so mom could watch her afternoon soap operas. My friends and I played in creeks and woods, collected crayfish or just sat with friends on a log over a stream to shoot water striders with BB guns. Our parents would never let us own a BB gun ... but someone always had one. There was always a scratch softball game going on in the middle of the road. A telephone pole was first base, a manhole cover was second, and the back of our neighbor's '57 Chrysler was usually third. More than once, a teammate slammed into one of the car's huge tail fins trying to beat the ball. Acceptable risk ...

The local playground had a huge set of monkey bars. Some kids lost a tooth or broke a bone falling off them, but it was an acceptable risk to us at the time. We were the generation raised and taught by World War II vets. We'd sneak peeks of shows our parents were watching, like "Gunsmoke," "The Rifleman," and "Bonanza" after bedtime. BB guns, street softball, monkey bars, and sneaking out of bed to watch westerns ... an adventurous environment with acceptable risks.

BB guns and monkey bars evolved into cars, dating, or driving with friends at night to the edge of town, where an old abandoned farmhouse stood and we dared each other to walk through it. The 60's also revolved around frequent discussions about joining the military. The military, not unlike a walk through the abandoned farmhouse, was an acceptable risk.

Nowadays, video games replace monkey bars. Paintball guns and the very cool looking safety equipment that goes with it have replaced BB guns. I have served in uniform for a few decades now, and the one thing that I continually see is an urge for people to take on what they consider "acceptable risks."

"Acceptable risk," to me, is the price you might pay for something you're about to do. If what you're about to do is dangerous but will save the world, well that's one thing. That's what medals are for. However, riding a motorcycle without a helmet, not wearing a seat belt, not wearing safety equipment, or yelling out, "Hey watch this!" just before doing something that could leave you dead or injured for no good reason is a crying shame.

The Air Force teaches us to use "Operational Risk Management" or ORM whenever we plan to do something. This isn't a program designed to ruin parties, it's something to guide us in thinking ahead just a little and trying to see where our actions will lead us. While we cannot eliminate risk, we can control it and make sure the risk is work the objective. I'm sure my friends and I used a form of ORM on the creaky front porch of that old abandoned farmhouse.

Are risks necessary? As the 101 Days of Summer start with Memorial Day, it's fitting to remember 10,000 Allied servicemen lost their lives on D-Day, June 6, 1944, alone. Twenty-six thousand Marines gave the last full measure during the battle of Iwo Jima. Was some form of ORM used? I think so. Were the risks worth the objectives? Every Memorial Day, this nation stops and says "yes." We all know parents, teachers and neighbors who were veterans of those battles.

Now compare that to not wearing a motorcycle helmet and having an accident. Compare the risk versus the payoff by not wearing safety gear or using the buddy system. If the worst happens, will you have (paraphrasing Lincoln) "sacrificed your life on the altar of freedom," or (my words) were you just being a doofus?

Enjoy the 101 days of summer, but think about what you're doing. For more information about ORM, visit www.e-publishing.af.mil/shared/media/epubs/AFPAM90-902.pdf.