WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii - The great outdoors is an ideal venue for extreme sports and activities. As a kid, I remember having fun just by going out and exploring. My friends and I would venture into the woods to climb trees or play tag or hide-and-seek.

As I got older, the exploring didn't stop. In fact, it got hazardous. As a kid, I ran through the woods. Now, as an adult, I drive through them. What's different is I'm cognizant of the hazards associated with extreme sports and always take precautions. These are simple precautions that can be applied to all outdoor activities. Simply having a friend come with you is the major one. Two people are always better than one, and three is optimal. Whenever I participate in outdoor activities, I always bring a friend.

Once, a friend and I were dirt biking through the woods. He took a turn too sharply and went down, sliding into a tree. His bike landed on top of him, pinning him to the ground. Fortunately, he was wearing all of his protective gear and was OK, but he landed in an awkward position and couldn't get his bike off of him. Had I not been there, he would've been stuck there for who knows how long.

Something else that gets us into trouble - and I know this from first-hand experience - is testing our limits. An adrenaline rush makes us feel invincible when we're riding through the woods. It's that rush that makes us push the limits to see what we can or can't do. It's the "can't do" that usually hurts. Always know your limits; but if you feel the need to test them, have a plan beforehand. What I mean is if there's a steeper mountain to climb, a bigger creek to jump or a trail to finish in record time, do it with a plan. Don't go out and attempt something on a dare or when someone calls you out. Assess the challenge, take it slow and do your homework before you try something new.

I watched another friend get hurt because someone dared him to free climb a waterfall. He had no safety gear and never attempted a climb like this before. All he had was a determined will to climb and prove the other guy wrong. About halfway up, he slipped and fell about 12 feet onto the rocks. The dare earned him a broken hip and foot. He didn't have a plan or assess his challenge before attempting the climb. I failed my buddy and regret not stopping him from climbing that waterfall. Luckily, my failure only resulted in some broken bones. It could've been much worse, and we both learned a valuable lesson.

Most outdoor enthusiasts love the rush of extreme activities and sports. However, without a plan, fun excursions can end badly. No matter what outdoor activity you participate in, remember to be safe. Plan your challenges when testing your limits and always bring a friend to keep you in line.

Between fiscal 2007-11, 12 Soldiers lost their lives while participating in off-duty sports-related activities such as hiking, rock climbing, skateboarding, paragliding and parachuting. Sports and recreational activities commonly lead to injuries, but leaders and Soldiers can mitigate the risks if they become actively involved, on and off duty.

Regardless what sport you decide to participate in, make sure you are physically prepared; have the proper training, clothing and equipment to conduct the activity; and use the risk management process during planning and throughout. In addition, as always, take a battle buddy.

To learn more about off-duty safety, check out the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center's Off-Duty Safety Awareness Presentation. Visit https://safety.army.mil/ODSAP (AKO log in required) today.