Airman's Compliance Learned as a Farm Boy

  • Published
  • By Col. Don Bacon
  • 3rd Air Force
When I lived on the farm growing up, I was allowed to operate all the equipment except the super expensive combine, which harvested the grain. My family taught me all the rules for servicing the tractors, and how to do such things as disking and planting. Though I didn't call it this at the time, each field operation had its own "TTPs" (tactics, techniques and procedures) for best performance. Moreover, maintaining the equipment and ensuring safety were obviously important to us corn and soybean farmers.

During the combining season, my job was to drive the filled grain trucks to our farm's storage bins and unload them using our auger. For this, I had some very specific rules: I was to back up to the auger, open the hatch and let the initial grain pour out, and then use the hydraulics to lift the truck bed by "a third at a time" to unload all the grain.

One day I had a bright idea. I could save time at the auger and go half way up on the hydraulics vice the one-third that was the standard. I was already misapplying AFSO21 as a teenager -- I was cutting corners primarily out of laziness. When I went half way up, the grain in the truck rushed down towards the bottom and the sudden increase in weight forced the bed of the truck all the way up. Panic set in as grain started pouring out over the top of the back and side walls, and I feared the truck would tip back on its rear two wheels. Eventually, enough grain poured out that the weight became manageable and I could operate the hydraulics once again. My shortcut cost me over an hour of cleanup, almost a broken truck and, least importantly, lots of embarrassment.

I learned from this that the farm rules my family gave me were there for darn good reasons, and I became quite leery of cutting any corners. The same goes today for all of us as Airmen. The checklists, standards and Air Force instructions are here for a reason: for our safety, to protect our equipment and to describe best known ways to get our mission done. From the most senior to most junior airmen, we must embrace the compliance culture or bad things happen.

Lives lost, mission failure and unit disintegration occur in a non-compliance environment. From where I sit at 3rd Air Force, most of the injuries and broken metal I read about have as their root cause lack of compliance. From a farm boy who learned the hard way, don't let this happen to you -- always set the standard for compliance.