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Safety always: The Mighty Ninety approach to safety

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Christopher Menuey
  • 90th Missile Wing Safety
"You should live gloriously, generously, dangerously. Safety last!" The hairs on the neck of every Air Force Global Strike Command member should stand on end after hearing that phrase.

Fortunately, those words did not come from any member of the Mighty Ninety where the culture is "safety always!" Cecil Lewis, a World War I pilot, penned that phrase in his autobiography, Sagittarius Rising. Lewis captured how most people view safety: freedom from or decreased exposure to harm. However, safety is more than this.
Safety is about risk management. It is a cost benefit analysis of one's potential risk of harm or injury weighed against the importance of accomplishing a given task or mission. Risk management was conducted during World War I, and led to the development of strategic bombers and nuclear weapons, and is an essential part of all aspects of 90th Missile Wing mission execution.

World War I pilots are an example of accepting a high level of risk to accomplish the vital national interest of defeating Germany. Cecil Lewis was 17 years old and only had 13 hours of flying experience when he went to France in 1916. The average length of a pilot's life at that time was three weeks. Such an incredible tolerance for loss of life may indeed sound like safety was last. However, throughout World War I, risk management was important. A loss rate of that magnitude was later deemed too high, so a change in procedures was made to mitigate the risk; no pilot crossed enemy lines without having at least 60 hours of flying experience. Regardless of mitigating actions for pilots, World War I claimed the lives of an estimated 10 million military personnel, for both Etente and Central Powers.

The millions of casualties in World War I heavily influenced military and political leaders and they sought ways to mitigate fighting a war this way again. Early air power theorists recognized the possibility of avoiding trench warfare through the development of strategic bombers to bypass fielded forces. Later, atomic weapons were developed to mitigate the risk of continued fighting in World War II and eventually thermonuclear weapons were developed to deter potential adversaries from ever beginning a conflict.

Today, the Mighty Ninety continues the proud mission of providing combat ready forces who deter our enemies and assure our allies, and risk management is paramount in every facet of mission execution. Whether driving from the base to a missile alert facility or participating in a convoy to transport a nuclear weapon to a launch facility, there is no room for accepting risk of injury to an Airman or damage to a nuclear weapon. The Mighty Ninety takes safety seriously and manages risk closely by following approved and repeatable processes in addition to instilling a culture of responsible choices.

While the wing safety office exists to help all wing organizations keep nuclear weapons and personnel safe, it is ultimately everyone's responsibility to speak up if an action or situation is risky, both on and off duty. The wing safety office staff is always available to consult with or investigate a concern and provide feedback on any safety issues. "Safety always" is the message needing to permeate the Mighty Ninety.