By WILLIAM GIBSON, First Army Division West, Fort Hood, Texas October 31, 2012
When I started my decorating endeavor, it was overcast, cold and windy and had been raining and sleeting all day. Talk about a perfect day for working outside on a ladder … not! I meticulously tested the lights, hooking them together and stretching the strands across the yard parallel to the house. I then leaned the ladder against the house and climbed up. In an effort to expedite my chore, I had my 14-year-old son hold the lights -- not the ladder -- for me. Like I always say, "Safety first!"
As I went up and down the ladder hanging the first strand, I realized this it was going to take forever. That's when I discovered a trick called ladder hopping. (Before you judge me too harshly, just think of the silly stuff you have done and the fact that most of us have done something, shall we say, "risky").
So here's how ladder hopping works. First, you rock the ladder away from the house by leaning back, just enough to balance it. Once balanced, you hop the ladder to the left or right, depending on the direction you want to go. If you don't lean away from the house far enough before hopping, you'll scrape your knuckles against the house. Not only is this unsafe, it hurts.
The first time I did it, I thought this is pretty cool. I told my son that at this pace, we'd be finished in no time.
"I don't know, Dad. Are you sure you're coordinated enough to do that?" he asked.
"Ha! I laugh in the face of danger," I replied.
The challenge had been set and the gauntlet thrown. I couldn't let him think I wasn't capable of ladder hopping, could I?
"I've got this," I said. "Just step back and watch the master."
Since ladder hopping isn't an Olympic sport, I figured there was no defined personal protective equipment and decided against wearing my son's old junior high school football helmet or my daughter's bicycle helmet. Besides, how much time would I waste grabbing some PPE?
All was going well until I came to a rose bush. It wasn't a big bush, and I was sure I could just bounce once backward, twice to the left and then once forward and I'd be back in position to hang the next strand of lights. Boy, was I wrong!
The last thing I remember was attempting the back hop. As I did, my feet went backward -- as in off the ladder -- but the bottom of the ladder didn't move. At that moment, I realized gravity really is a law. Since my hands were on the sides of the ladder instead of on the rung, I couldn't break my fall. My chin immediately hit the top rung and my head snapped back just as my feet swung back toward the ladder. My left foot went between two rungs up to my knee and my right leg missed the ladder completely. The ladder swayed for a few seconds before falling backward, with me still attached, into a large puddle of icy, muddy water.
Fortunately, I wasn't hurt badly, but my pride was bruised. As I sat there in the puddle, I looked at my son and said with as straight a face as possible, "Well, I hope you learned a valuable lesson here."
"Dad, trust me, I will never try that," he said. "But what are you going to tell mom?"
"Nothing," I replied. "We'll keep this learning moment between us."
I learned a valuable, albeit painful, lesson that day. Those around you -- children, Soldiers, co-workers -- not only hear what you say, they also watch what you do. You set the standard. Take the time to use some risk management before attempting something potentially dangerous. You never know who is watching. Plus, it's just the right thing to do.