By Bill Dampf
I had the honor and pleasure of attending my son's graduation from military basic training. I can't tell you how great it felt watching the proceedings. Not only was I a proud father but I also was proud to be an American. To see 600 young men and women take the oath to serve and protect our nation was something I will always treasure.
I got to spend about four days with my son, who relayed many stories about his experiences over the prior 8 1/2 weeks. Some of them were hilarious while others were filled with lessons of achievement and at times disappointment. One of the things that several of the graduates shared with us was that nearly all of them wanted to pack their gear and go home within just a couple of days of arriving. On arrival, they were met at the bus by a Military Training Instructor (MTI), who welcomed the new recruits. This was not a welcome that involved hugs and kisses. It was "IN YOUR FACE" intensity. It was constant yelling and screaming followed by push-ups. It was moving from one station to the next. First you lose your hair, then you're handed a uniform, then it's shots for every possible disease and so on. A 13-mile walk with a 45-pound pack on your back takes place within 24 hours of your arrival and you don't sleep. The food is lousy and you have to eat in the five minutes they give you. They began to question why anyone would put themselves through this, and, in some cases, a few decided to quit.
In discussing this with my son, we agreed that it was the military's intent to beat a person down as far as they can go and then rebuild them to a soldier's way of thinking--a way of thinking that places great importance on attention to detail. The way a pair of socks is rolled or a locker arranged or a uniform worn. A way where your fellow trainee provides a watchful eye because you have become one as a unit and to ensure you do it right, knowing that when one makes a mistake, everyone suffers.
What occurred in those 8 1/2 weeks was a transformation of young men and women into respectful, polite, strong and well-trained protectors of freedom. There is no doubt that every one of them will do their job when asked to do so.
The choices and decisions we make as adults have been shaped and molded by our experiences, our training and by those we interact with. Unfortunately, because of these experiences, our behavior tends to drift and we become more willing to cut a corner or accept an unnecessary risk. A simple example would be our driving habits. I'm sure most of us, as a new driver, drove at or below the speed limit. I would also say that if asked today, I am sure the greatest percentage of us would have to confess that our usual and customary speed is well over that allowed by law.
I sometimes think we should all go through a safety basic training of sorts. Absent the yelling, it would remove all of our machoisms and our "it can't happen to me" mentality. The safety boot camp would shape our way of thinking to one of "attention to detail," where procedures and rules are followed, where planning and preparation ensures that risks are identified and mitigated. A way of thinking where we watch over each other and have the courage to act when those we work with choose to cut a corner, knowing that one person's mistake can cause suffering for many.
In the absence of a safety boot camp, shouldn't we all think about how our safe behavior has drifted to something less? What risks do we take today that we would have never accepted early in our career? Would it not be best for us all to return to the basics, where we first started?
Take an oath to serve and protect ourselves, our families and those we work with.
Bill Dampf is the retired Director of Corporate Safety and Health for a Midwest electric and natural gas utility. He has been in the safety profession for 35 years and an international speaker for 15. He acquired his BS degree and Masters degree in Industrial Safety, and is a Certified Safety Professional.