Preflight Step 1: Place Ring in the OFF Position
January 31, 2012
I was one of those Soldiers who knew and understood the risks associated with wearing my wedding band at work, but I chose to wear it anyway. I told myself nothing would happen to me because I was aware of the catch hazard and I would operate with a heightened consciousness of the ring. I believed I would be able to reduce the risk by wearing my gloves during preflight operations and avoid jumping down from the aircraft. I was much more afraid of losing the ring or simply forgetting to put it back on after work and causing my wife to question why I wasn't wearing the very symbol of my fidelity and commitment to our marriage.
Of course, I would not be writing this article if I weren't personally involved in a ring accident. And let me tell you, it hurts! It happened to me while climbing out of the pilot side of a Black Hawk following a night vision goggle flight in Iraq. After a long night of NVG flying in a combat zone, this was not the way I was expecting to finish my day.
I had about 700 flight hours at the time and, as far as I can remember, I had always climbed out of the aircraft the same way. Although there was nothing out of the ordinary about the way I dismounted the helicopter, this was the time my ring finger became acquainted with the tiny screw that protrudes about two threads out from the top of the armor side panel. Unfortunately, my loosely enforced personal rule of not jumping off the aircraft did not always apply to getting out of my seat after a flight. I typically pushed myself out from the step and hopped out of the aircraft. Since I am somewhat short and lowering one foot to the ground and leaving the other on the step is unnatural, the small jump down from the step had become routine. So, holding my left hand on the top of the armor panel, I pushed off and jumped to the ground just a foot or two below. My ring caught on the screw and by the time my feet hit the ground, I was in a completely unexpected world of pain.
Initially, I tried to conceal my pain because I knew exactly how unsympathetic my crew would be. We had all seen the graphic photos and been warned about the risks of wearing wedding rings on the aircraft. Besides that, it is pretty tough to squeeze any sympathy for mistakes from aviators, in general. After a few moments of trying to be tough, though, it was a relief to scream a blue streak. Predictably, nobody felt sorry for me, but a crew chief was sure to take pictures to post at the troop medical clinic. Luckily, my ring came off my finger and my wounds were not serious, but I learned a valuable lesson through the pain of the accident and the shame of having to walk by the picture of my finger every time I visited the TMC.
One positive outcome of this accident is that I gained a solid argument to convince my wife that wearing my ring at work was too dangerous. So, now I share this story and the photo with you so that you can make that argument with your spouse before you have a similar accident.