Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Situational Awareness

In early August, I had the privilege of attending the graduation of my oldest son, David, from the US Army's Airborne School . He spent three weeks at Ft Benning Georgia learning how to jump out of perfectly good airplanes at low altitude. I'm glad there are people who are willing to do this.

I have no military background at all, so watching David work through Army training over the past year has been a real education for me. On the morning of the graduation, I arrived at the outdoor graduation site an hour early. I began to observe the various officers and enlisted men in uniform interact in the preparation for the event. In particular, I noted who saluted whom, when, in what order and what followed in the military protocol surrounding the very basic matter of a salute. As I said, all of this is new to me, a lifelong civilian.

Later that day, I described my observations to David, wondering just how everyone knew what to do and when.

He chuckled. "It's all about 'situational awareness' Dad."

What's that mean??

"The saluting thing is only partially about military courtesy. Underneath it is the constant discipline to be aware of your surroundings. "

Sorry, pal, I still don't get it.

He sighed, wondering if he could make the old man understand. "Here's how it works. When you are in uniform, you must learn to quickly identify anyone else near you who is also in uniform. You must instantly scan their uniform to learn if they are an officer or enlisted. Then, depending on what you observe, you salute or stand at ease."

Hmmmm. So what's the connection?

He's still chuckling. "Dad, pay attention. What we learn is to constantly know what is going on around us. If you are in a combat situation, you have to be aware, all the time, all around you, for your sake and for the sake of your unit. Thus, the simple thing of saluting makes this awareness second nature. Now, does that make sense?"

Yes. It is good when the son teaches the Dad.

And I ask myself: do I have that same eye, that same situational awareness, for the wastes around me? Have I developed the keen outlook that sees and reacts with the same precision and consistency that a soldier learns? Do I "notice"?

I hope this is helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

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