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The "264 days of other"

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- Congratulations, you've made it through the "101 Critical Days of Summer" without incident. But now what? 

Many self-help groups take things "one day at a time," they use time frames to help break down ideas, like safety, into something more manageable. The "264 Days of Other" have just begun and will continue until summer starts again. If we borrow a page from those self-help groups and practice safety "one day at a time" during the other 264 days of the year, I guarantee you'll stand a much higher chance of being successful. 

Incorporating safety into your everyday life puts the focus exactly where it needs to be. Commanders and supervisors stress safety in the workplace and at home. There's always a safety briefing at our commander's calls or before a holiday weekend. The reality though is each of us needs to practice safety every day. During the 264 Days of Other, I'd like all of us to pay attention to the following three areas: personal, mental and physical safety. 

Simply put, if we make a mistake or take unnecessary risks that result in our death, our mental and physical safety have already been compromised. This makes personal safety the most important of the three. 

How do we practice personal safety? A simple approach is to just follow the basic rules we all should have learned in kindergarten (i.e., follow regulations and use common sense): 

Look both ways before you cross the street (be aware of hazards in your environment at home, at work, and at play); 

Don't play with fire (avoid dangerous activities, including abusing alcohol and drinking/driving); 

No running in the hallways (observe the speed limit and don't drive too fast for road conditions); 

Obey your parents (follow the rules); and play nice with others (be a good Wingman). 

Mental safety has become very important in recent years. Suicide rates across the Air Force have been up over the past couple of years. Annualized rates as of Aug. 7, were 24 suicides (12.4 per 100,000). The end of year numbers for suicides in 2008 was 40 suicides (12.4 per 100,000). Over the past years, the service has averaged 35 suicides per year (9.9 per 100,000). If trends continue this year, we could potentially lose another 16 individuals before January. This isn't acceptable. Our goal for attempted and completed suicides across the Air Force must always be zero, as one loss of life to suicide is one too many. 

Commanders, supervisors, and friends all need to be involved. However, the most important person in this equation is you. In order to maintain your mental safety, you need to make sure your relationships with friends and acquaintances are healthy, maintain an optimistic outlook, believe in something higher than yourself, be a member of or participate in a club or community and seek assistance with problems as early as possible. Research shows these coping mechanisms are shown to reduce the chance of someone committing suicide. 

Lastly, we all need to take steps to ensure our physical safety. As the Air Force has become more expeditionary, the focus on fitness has continued to increase. Retired Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. John P. Jumper established the Fit-to-Fight program in the summer of 2003. Since then, we've seen the focus on fitness increase tenfold as the Air Force has come to realize that being in shape can be the difference between life and death. 

General Jumper set a new and higher expectation for fitness when he said, "I want to make very clear that my focus is not on passing a fitness test once a year. More important, we are changing the culture of the Air Force. This is about our preparedness to deploy and fight. It's about warriors. It is about instilling an expectation that makes fitness a daily standard -- an essential part of your service. Commanders, supervisors, and front-line leaders must lead the way -- through unit physical training, personal involvement and, most important, by example." 

This emphasis on fitness has only grown under Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz, including PT testing twice a year. If you're not working out regularly, get with the program. Your physical safety depends on your fitness. 

We all need to make sure we practice personal safety, mental safety and physical safety "one day at a time" -- each of our lives depends on it. I'm looking forward to seeing all of you next Memorial Day so together we can successfully end the 264 Days of Other and kick off the start of another winning "101 Critical Days of Summer."