Every mistake is a learning experience

COLUMBUS AFB, Miss. -- I was in full afterburner, racing across the desert floor at 600 knots and 500 feet when it hit me.... "I didn't have enough fuel left to make it back to 'Vegas!" 

I was a young lieutenant, full of fire and sure of myself; and later that day I had to explain to my commander and the squadron how I nearly ran a perfectly good jet out of gas in the middle of a Red Flag exercise! I learned a lot that day. My squadron mates also got the chance to learn from my mistake. 

Mistakes happen - that's part of life. Some are small and inconsequential, like I forgot to put the garbage out. Other mistakes cost lives. Aviation is an especially unforgiving endeavor. 

There I was, driving alongside the runway, on my way home when I saw one of our jets lose it on final. I raced through the burning fuel and debris to the crew. They never made it. When the safety investigation concluded, I learned a great deal about no flap approach and landings. 

That time, however, I learned from someone else's mistake. 

We all know the cliché "We learn from our mistakes". But, we also have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others. Webster's dictionary defines a mistake as "a wrong action attributable to bad judgment, ignorance or inattention." We improve our judgment and knowledge by reviewing and learning from our own mistakes and the mistakes of others. The difficult part is taking the time to reflect upon those mistakes that have occurred around us when we are busy with our own overloaded schedules. But we simply can't afford not to do so in today's Air Force. Our people are too valuable, our time is too valuable. 

There have been some tough lessons learned in our wing during the last month. We have had three DUI's, all of which were mistakes that cost someone their career. One involved a vehicle accident. That one could have cost us a life, maybe an innocent life, like your son or your daughter. We have seen the headlines elsewhere: "Family Destroyed by Drunk Driver." Each of us individually, and as a wing, needs to stop and take the opportunity to learn from these mistakes. Let's not wait until a life is lost and another career is shattered, to learn from the mistake that drinking and driving doesn't mix. 

Meeting the challenges of today's Air Force is demanding and takes a great deal of focus. Within such a large and complex organization, mistakes will happen. Our challenge is to learn from those mistakes. Our focus, both individually and collectively, must take pause from time to time to learn from our mistakes; else we are doomed to repeat the past. The opportunities are there to better ourselves, better our judgment. We just need to take the time. Take the time to learn from your mistakes and take the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others. An old saying in safety is: "There are no new mishaps - just new players."