Good mistakes

Col. Donald Wilhite, 314th Maintenance Group commander

Col. Donald Wilhite, 314th Maintenance Group commander

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- Is there such a thing as a good mistake? You bet. For example, in our profession, if you're uncertain about calling the room to attention, call it to attention. If you're uncertain about saluting, salute. If you're uncertain about saying "sir" or "ma'am," say "sir", "ma'am." If the action wasn't required, at least you erred on the side of a good mistake. Someone might mention you didn't need to do it, but that's beneficial too; you generated a friendly discussion about proper procedures. We learn from our mistakes, so don't think of them as faults or errors, but an education.

Can you think of other, more profound examples of good mistakes? How about when someone in your work area is showing signs of a significant problem? What do you do? Ignore it? Live and let live? Hope he gets a clue, figures it out for himself? Avoid telling anyone because you don't want to be a rat, seem nosy, or get someone in trouble? How about being a good wingman, going to your first sergeant, and telling him or her your concerns. There's no one better to confide in, and your shirt will know what to do, or how to find out what to do. And you can leave it at that; you've done your part.

If it turns out to be minor, a non-issue, then no harm, no foul -- it's a good mistake. You were being proactive, a good friend, a good Airman. On the other hand, if it's major, you might save a life, a family, a marriage, a career. There's no mistake in doing that.

It's not a mistake to speak up and talk with your shirt. And in many cases, it's actually your responsibility to do so.

I've got a true story to back this up. We, right here at Little Rock AFB, lost a good Airman two years ago who had a drinking problem he couldn't control, and it drove him to suicide. Many of his friends and co-workers knew he had a problem, knew he was drinking too much, and saw this happening over a long period of time, but no one came forward. He did his job; he was "good-to-go." His leadership, both officer and enlisted, didn't know he had a problem, but to a certain extent that's to be expected. Shirts, chiefs, and officers can't be everywhere all at once, and we can't know everything. 

We certainly can't know things if people don't communicate, or sweep them under the rug. When the problem finally came to light, our leaders took action. We executed our processes, disciplinary, medical, and rehabilitative. 

But it was too late. His addiction was too deep, we couldn't pull him back, and eventually he chose suicide. Now there's a wife without a husband, kids without a father, and one less capable, promising Airman in the Air Force.

It takes a team effort, and as a team, we depend on each other to speak up. Maybe you see someone struggling with a financial problem, a drinking problem, or a family problem. The individual needs help, but isn't getting it; and his work and his personal life are faltering. 

Not sure where to turn or who to talk to? Contact your first sergeant. If need be, tell him (or her) you don't want to be a rat, and you may be completely off the mark, but you know something you're concerned about and you're not certain who to turn to, so you came to him. 

Your Shirt will take it from there. Remember, if it's a non-issue, no harm; it's a good mistake. But if it's a major issue, it's not a mistake at all; in fact, you're following through on your responsibilities.

There is such a thing as good mistakes. Your good mistake may actually turn out to be the best thing you could do for a friend or Airman in need.