The Weekend Safety Brief Must Go!

Moses breaking the tablets

By: Joe Byerly

One of the first principles of the philosophy of Mission Command is “Build Cohesive Teams Through Mutual Trust,” and I would argue that the antithesis of this is standing in front of the formation every single Friday reading off rules like we’re Moses with the Ten Commandments.

“I don’t trust you to do the right thing, so here it is…:”

“Thou shall not drink and drive”

“Thou shall not hit thy wife”

Our Soldiers deserve better than this, and we as leaders have much more to offer than the standard weekly set of commandments, which only the minority (the dreaded 1% that take up 99% of our time) ignore anyways.

Pastors of successful churches realized years ago that this approach doesn’t have any effect on those who need to hear it, so they repackaged their weekly messages, and now those churches are growing exponentially with non-church people.

It’s about time company and battalion commanders do the same!

In most cases, we only have 5-15 minutes a week to look your entire formation in the eye, and we want to waste it with rules?

Some of you are probably thinking right now, “the only reason I do this is to cover my butt in the event one of my Soldiers does something stupid over the weekend; I can say I gave them the safety brief!” Well, another principle of Mission Command is “Accept Prudent Risk,” and I think this is the perfect place to exercise this.

Here are some alternatives for your next close-out formation:

  • Highlight Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. Use their stories to inspire your Soldiers and drive discussion about standards (which are internal), not rules (which are external).
  • Recognize a Soldier who did something exceptional during the week. In Taking the Guidon, by Burgess and Allen, the authors say this (1) reinforces individual Soldier commitment (2) is meaningful to Soldiers because it shows them their commander knows their story (3) encourages the Soldier to live up to the reputation of being a strong performer.
  • Keep your Soldiers informed. If you think the information from your weekly training meetings always make it down to the lowest levels, think again. Use this as an opportunity to give them a heads up of what is coming down the tracks.
  • Pitch a 5-10 minute “sermon” with practical substance. In a series titled Guard Rails, Andy Stanley discusses the concept of establishing personal guard rails in our lives to prevent us from straying into dangerous areas. To me, this is more powerful than telling someone “don’t drink and drive.”

Even if you think my suggestions are lacking, just do something other than the “Safety Brief”! You get less than 20 minutes a week, so try to make it more transformational, and less transactional!

8 Comments

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8 responses to “The Weekend Safety Brief Must Go!

  1. Darrell Fawley

    Agreed. The biggest issue here as a commander who wants to switch it up is the organizational fixedness on the safety brief. As a commander I used to delegate the safety brief to squad leaders because we were supposed to be going into combat as a bunch of spread out squads. Well, DUI occurs and the CSM asks “Who gave the safety brief?” and it was a big deal that it was a SSG. The problem is that this CSM thought the same thing in his position as a SSG as we did, but somewhere down the line began to believe safety briefs make people safe. So, I went back to doing “safety briefs” but if I talked about safety is was “Call us if you need a ride, no questions asked” and “you are all adults, we treat you like adults, and will continue to do so until you give us a reason not to”.

  2. David

    I found it productive to employ a well established educational strategy- using positive instead of negative statements, combined with leading questions to prompt my Soldiers to practice Composite Risk Management (CRM). Positive statements affirm “what to do” instead of “what not to do.” The brain doesn’t remember the negative message only the message. So when you say “don’t drink and drive” the brain remembers, “drink and drive.” So instead of the tired safety brief I provide the Soldiers with a scenario that they are likely to experience and ask them to identify hazards and apply CRM. The results are not only productive in practicing CRM and identifying hazards but they inevitably have a whole lot of laughs thinking up crazy things that Soldiers do on the weekends.

  3. Jim

    I always hit the Army Values, and do it in an active “Do this” not inactive “Don’t do this” way. The idea being to build up the pride in the unit, the honor of what they are a part of, etc. in order to affect the decisions they make on the weekend.

    No one needs to be told not to drink and drive, they already know that. You aren’t going to get a guy that thinks “Holy cow, I had no idea. I was planning on doing that tonight, but now I’ve got to rethink my plan.” Instead you have to give them a reason to do what they already know is the right thing.

  4. J Wilson

    At my first company as a PL, we had a 1SG the Soldiers lovingly called “Robotop.” He was a Vietnam Cav Trooper right down to the overtly large Cav mustache. He had a simple safety briefing he gave each day:

    “Two beers! No loud music! and if you go swimming….swim with a buddy.”

    He would vary the last part somewhat depending on the season, but the implied message to the Soldiers was clear — I’m not giving you a bunch of ‘thou shalt nots’ because you are grown men and professional Soldiers…Do the RIGHT thing — and you know what that is — or you’ll have to answer to me! You take care of me, and I will take care of you.

    The Soldiers relished the respect and responsibility and generally lived up to the implied standards.

    It is sad that now a days, leaders are burdened with having to sift through piles of written weekend plans prepared by each soldier regaling the minute-by-minute plans of each soldier for the next 60-odd hours. Then they receive the 30-40 minute spiel from the Battalion Commander, followed by a 30-40 minute regurgitation (or translation) provided by the Command Sergeant Major…most of the words cannot be heard at the back of the closed-in horseshoe gaggle…not that many care. This is followed by the obligatory 60 – 90 minutes at the hands of the Company Commander and First Sergeant…. Next comes the Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant’s turn, ad nauseum…. This on top of all the other mandatory politically corrective indoctrination, it is a wonder ANY unit is combat ready.

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  6. CPT James Kadel

    While in command, my Friday safety briefs were usually built upon repetitive quotes for my Soldiers to remember. If I spent 10-15 minutes just talking about “Do’s/Don’ts, and telling stories” most of the formation would probably forget everything I said within a few hours. So there were two things I always said, that I would ask them to repeat. Same reason why we make Soldiers memorize the Soldiers Creed, so they remember it.

    The first was: (me) “What is the definition of discipline?” The correct answer: (formation) “Discipline is the repeated act of making the correct/right choice”. Of course, there are many correct definitions of discipline, but this definition is simple, easy to remember, and emphasizes personal accountability for your own choices and actions.

    The second was: (me) “Raise your hand if you’re proud to be in this unit?” Of course, the expected response is for all hands to go up. Then I would say: “Then act like it this weekend.” This emphasized unit pride and accountability to your unit for your off-duty actions.

    Hopefully it made a difference, but during my time in command I very rarely got phone calls on the weekends.

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  8. Tom

    Even back in the BDU and black boot days, we suffered this affliction of ‘forced caring.’

    At one end of the spectrum we got the speech directly read to us from a script. Upon completion each soldier stood in line to sign an individualized counseling statement (with script attached) to be used against us if we violated any of the lawful orders contained therein. That was in the Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course were young Sergeants were taught to be great combat leaders.

    At the other end of the spectrum was the safety briefing of 1SG Bob Preston of the 2nd Infantry Division Artillery in wonderful Ui-jongbu Korea. “Don’t do dumb shit. Since none of you are dumb, you’ll know what to do.” Incidentally, the DIVARTY Chaplain was scandalized and ratted him out to the Colonel who promptly stole it and used it as his own.

    Philosophically, is there any other calling that feels the need to insult the character and intelligence of their people before they take time off?

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