Make responsible decisions

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Norman Thierolf
  • 80th Flying Training Wing
One of the hard things about being a chief master sergeant or other senior leader, is that you have access to information like, security forces blotters, investigation reports and fatality briefs. Often times they document when things don't necessarily go well and even describe the actions that lead to the loss of a life.

I've read, listened to or watched video teleconferences on these incidents in the past and one of the more common themes is that the person(s) did not make a responsible choice. The trend begins with someone in a compromising position and the end result is tragic or near tragic.

We're always talking to our younger, more junior folks about making smart, responsible decisions like being a good wingman and looking out for one another. Maybe the listeners think it is just the "old chief" talking, or maybe they think they're young and invincible like the "old chief" once thought. In any case, we still have people that don't make responsible decisions, leading to accidents and sometimes fatalities.

As I read the news report that professional football player Chris Henry died, it made me think about responsible decision making.

Just a few years ago, Chris Henry had his whole life and future ahead of him. He was set up to be taken care of financially for the rest of his life. In just a short period of time it was all taken because of his inability to make responsible decisions.

Mr. Henry was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals of the National Football League in 2005. Between April 2005 (when he was drafted) and Dec. 17, 2009, a series of bad decisions and a lack of good judgment led to his demise. During his four-year playing career, Mr. Henry was involved in a string of legal troubles including several arrests for such offenses as driving under the influence, marijuana possession, assault and criminal damaging. He was also suspended by the NFL for violating its substance abuse policy in 2008.

Mr. Henry didn't seem to learn from his previous bad decisions and just a few weeks ago, according to police, was involved in a domestic dispute with his fiancé. As she drove off, he jumped in the back of her pickup truck, falling out the back and sustaining the injuries that led to his death. He was 26 years old.

I understand that we have a different, and I would argue higher, set of standards that we enforce and adhere to compared to the NFL. We have our core values and a heritage that we uphold in the Air Force, but we still have people making the same kinds of irresponsible decisions that a guy like Chris Henry made.

If Mr. Henry didn't put himself in the back of that pickup (compromising position), he would be alive today and I probably would not be writing this article. But he did and we have people in the Air Force doing the same thing. We get an approved travel plan for a weekend, only to break the plan and do something different that leads to disaster. We let a friend go off with three "new" friends that they barely know, meeting them at a local bar or establishment, leading to an assault or other tragic event. We don't follow proper safety procedures such as using jack stands on our car or not using seat belts, only to have the vehicle collapse on us or have someone ejected from a vehicle when it leaves the road.

These are all incidents that could have been avoided had we just stopped for a minute, thought about the consequences of our actions and/or decisions or had a friend step in and tell us that it isn't a good idea.

None of us are going to live forever. I get that part. But we cannot afford to have our people not get the most out of the life and their career in the Air Force that is in front of them, over not being able to make clear, responsible decisions.

Mr. Henry had a bright and promising future ahead of him when he started his career. Most of you also have a bright and promising future ahead of you in the Air Force if you choose to make it a career. Chris Henry's career ended too soon due to bad decisions ... yours doesn't have to.