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2012 CEOs Who 'Get It'

February 1, 2012

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Lieutenant General
Harry M. Wyatt III

Director, Air National Guard
National Guard Bureau

Why is safety a core value in the Air National Guard?

Lieutenant General Harry M. Wyatt III: In the Air National Guard, safety is paramount, and every mission’s success is contingent on each Airman making it home safely at the end of the day. The Air National Guard remains dedicated to fostering an environment where Airmen recognize it is their responsibility, as well as the responsibility of the collective whole, to be good stewards of the resources. I recognize that the brave men and women are the Air National Guard’s most valued resource. As such, our ability to do our job today and in the future is dependent on ensuring our remarkable Airmen continue to operate within an environment that actively promotes a culture of safety.

What is your organization’s biggest obstacle to safety?

Preparing an organization for combat and disaster relief is an inherently dangerous business. We do our best to ensure our Airmen have the necessary equipment and procedures to be as safe as possible, but as with any organization, we can’t predict every threat and hazard our Guard members will face. My goal in the face of the unknown is to instill hazard recognition and smart risk management that Airmen can apply in any situation. One of my biggest safety objectives is to prepare our people to safely navigate unexpected or unanticipated situations. This proactive stance spills over into countless safety initiatives that help keep our Airmen out of harm’s way.

For instance, some of these initiatives include programs that focus on the impact of human factors and organizational behavior on aircraft maintenance. The results are reflected in our Maintenance Resource Management initiative, the Flyawake.org proactive fatigue avoidance tool, and the SeeandAvoid.org mid-air collision avoidance program. In those unfortunate instances when we do experience a mishap or safety incident, my organization conducts a thorough root-cause investigation not only to determine what happened, but to provide specific and actionable recommendations to ensure the same or similar event won’t happen again.

How important is off-the-job safety to the Air National Guard’s overall safety program? What type of off-the-job safety program do you offer?

The Air National Guard’s concern for the safety of our Airmen doesn’t stop when they exit the gate. As I said, our people are our No. 1 asset, so identifying preventable mishaps are key to keeping our personnel focused on the mission at hand. Recreational activities, fire safety, traffic safety, crime prevention – it feels as there is so much more to pay attention to than when I was young. My concern for each and every one of these remarkable individuals is constant. It is why I ensure our emphasis on safety isn’t focused solely on the job, but instead fosters a habitual practice of safety in all that our Airmen do on and off the job. Statistically speaking, the most hazardous thing our Guardsmen do every day is drive to and from work. It’s much more dangerous to navigate our nation’s roadways than it is to fly an F-16 at 500 feet and 500 miles per hour.

Proper planning and decision-making is essential to the safety program, and we offer a wide variety of safety programs. We kick every summer off with a campaign known as “101 Critical Days of Summer,” educating our Airmen on risk management. Our Guard members receive beginner as well as advanced vehicle and motorcycle training.

Yet, motorcycles continue to be a high-risk recreational safety issue. As the economy has more people opting to ride motorcycles, inexperienced new riders operate virtually unprotected in an environment of big SUVs and other vehicles. With drivers increasingly distracted by their environment and communication devices, it is simply one of the most hazardous things our Airmen can choose to do. We must continue to emphasize training and education.

How do you measure safety? What are the leading indicators that show you how safe you are, and where do you see room for improvement?

As in most organizations, the Air National Guard reports, measures and analyzes not only mishaps and incidents, but also near misses. We employ a robust surveillance and evaluation program to ensure our Guard members maintain the highest standards of program management and execution. I’m especially proud of the tools and resources that empower our local commanders with a realistic analysis of their organizational behaviors in endeavors to create a proactive culture of safety Guard-wide. This comprehensive look at the past, present and future gives us a practical focus for safety improvements and initiatives. When it comes to safety, we prefer precision targeting of clearly identified hazards. I value the strategic partnerships and alliances with OSHA and government agencies, as well as industry and local businesses.

Presently, our biggest challenge is how to maintain a focused culture of safety in an environment of constrained resources. We continue to emphasize the vital role leadership plays in defining acceptable risk and shaping organizational decision-making. As a fighter pilot, one of the things we learned early is the ability to call a “knock it off.” It’s a simple tool we use to break a mishap chain of events. Anyone is allowed and expected to use this tool in unsafe situations. We need to be ready, willing and able to use it when necessary.

Describe your journey to becoming a CEO who “gets it.”

It is difficult to take credit for something that has been the standard for many years. I’ve been a fighter pilot for most of my Air National Guard career. The first lesson you learn as a fighter pilot is the “wingman ethos,” which is simply each Airman’s responsibility to look out for one another and to hold one another accountable. Not only is the ethos required for survival in combat, but it’s the very foundation upon which the Air National Guard’s success in upholding the highest standards of safety has been built. We in the Air National Guard aren’t just members of an organization; we are family, and family takes care of each other. I still recognize the importance of the “wingman ethos” and its critical role in influencing the decisions I make day to day as I seek to continue to care for my family. I’ve filled many roles in my life as a citizen soldier, a lawyer and a judge; in these roles, I’ve seen the unfortunate results of unsafe and reckless behavior. These are lessons that I don’t take lightly and the reason why I’m so committed to a culture of safety built on the “wingman ethos.”


The Air National Guard has a federal mission to prepare for war and provide assistance during national emergencies. With 106,700 Guard members in 50 states, three U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, the Air National Guard provides national and state-level combat and emergency response capabilities.

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