FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Sept. 19, 2017) - Back when I was a young buck sergeant, I got my teeth kicked in due to improper tool accountability. Getting one's teeth kicked in isn't as bad as it sounds; a little corrective training never hurt anyone. But this particular event inspired me to reach what I thought was an unreachable Soldier.

I was a maintenance sergeant for a Chinook company. My guys had just completed aircraft maintenance on the flight line and I inspected all of their work. As I was on my way to pull a technical inspector away from his air-conditioned office, I realized a small task remained. I instructed one of my junior privates - whose heart was always in the right place - to replace an improper safety wire while I went to get the TI. I reminded him to do a foreign object debris check after he was done. I reinforced my guidance with a stern eye and nothing more. The Soldier completed the task and went back to the office. I returned with the TI, who asked if I had looked over everything. As a new, hard-charging noncommissioned officer, I replied, "Absolutely," forgetting I hadn't checked my Soldier's safety wire work.

The TI found a set of wire cutters and some extra wire on the rotating swashplate assembly. He not so calmly explained that if that assembly failed, there is no backup system and pilots can't park on a cloud to wait for help. My platoon leader just happened to be in the area and decided to jump in and assist the TI with my "lesson." The undeniable lesson I learned that day was no matter what happens, I am responsible for the actions of my Soldiers.

After the smoke cleared (and I collected what pieces of my hindquarters were left), I went back to the office. My guys were patiently waiting for me to release them. I asked if they had everything and, of course, they all said yes. I then pulled out the wire cutter, and one head dropped. I didn't go on the tangent I had rehearsed in my head on my way back from the flight line. Instead, I released everyone.

The FOD culprit stayed back and apologized. Apparently, he'd heard about the one-way conversation I received. I asked if he knew any of the people who were going to fly that aircraft later that evening, and he said he didn't. I then took him back out to the helicopter and had him do another FOD check. Meanwhile, I spoke with the pilot, who I respected greatly, and asked if I could try something. He agreed.

I told my private to look at the pilot and tell me about him. He didn't say anything because he didn't know the pilot. I proceeded to tell him about the pilot as well as his wife and sons. The private's eyes started to water. I asked him, "What if your tool resulted in this man's death? What would you say to his family? How many eulogies will it take to get you to do your job right?" He was silent.

That's the business maintainers are in. It's not just about taking the fight to the enemy; it's about making sure our warfighters have fully functioning equipment to make it home every time. A FOD check should be conducted frequently and consistently around work areas, especially motor pools, flight lines or any maintenance facilities. We give them the best product available, regardless how terrible the weather is or how tired we are. In our world, just like in yours, there is no room for complacency.

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