What not to do: Where is your parachute?

  • Published
  • By Col. Michael Burke
  • 21st Medical Group commander
In December 2003, the British Medical Journal published a shocking discovery -- the use of a parachute to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge had never been proven! The authors were unable to find a single analysis on the matter, although parachutes are widely used for recreational and military use.

The basis for using a parachute is purely observational and reports on free fall without a parachute do not show 100 percent mortality. So one may ask, do we need to conduct a thorough investigation on the matter (i.e. looking up AFIs, DoD regulations, etc.) to justify the many hours of manpower and other resources we are dedicating to the use of parachutes in this fiscally constrained environment? Before we "jump to conclusions" and decide to conduct an exercise where one group gets to jump with a parachute while the others demonstrate that their effectiveness in preventing death/injury may not be required, perhaps we can take a step back.

Asking why we do certain tasks is often needed and encouraged. However, as Airmen and leaders at every level, are we questioning tasks we are doing and listening to the ideas of the youngest and newest members of our units? Likewise, are we listening to the answers? Nothing should scare us more than the following three responses:
1) We have always done it this way.
2) I don't know why.
3) Because the AFI/regulation says we have to.

I would argue that when any of these responses are given to a question, the person answering has no "big picture" understanding of why they are doing what they are doing. I believe that if these answers are provided, we should respond with yet another question:
1) Why have we always done it this way?
2) If you don't know why, then why are you doing it (or why haven't you asked the reason behind what you are doing)?
3) Why does the AFI/regulation say we have to?

In this time of limited resources, force reshaping and decreasing budgets, now is the time to ask more "what not to do" questions. Just be sure you are really listening to the answers! For instance: "Why are we charting this metric?"... "Because the AFI says we have to."... "Why? What do they use the metric for?" and so on. If the final answer in the line of questioning ends up being "I don't know why," then it is time to take the question up the chain and, with supporting facts, respectfully suggest we not do that task anymore.

All too quickly, many of us have the knee jerk reaction to think (or even say) "That's a dumb question." (i.e. why do we use parachutes?) However, as the Chinese proverb says, "He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever." We need to be open to all questions, even those that may not make sense at first, and follow through until a logical answer is the final result.

As in the case of the lack of evidence of the effectiveness of parachutes, sometimes common sense must be applied. At other times, facts and more facts are required. I challenge each of you to find one process, checklist or other item in your work center to question (find your parachute). Find that one thing not to do that will make life a bit easier. Just be sure you don't "come down to earth with a bump."