An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Commentary Search

Run out, share your safety story this summer

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
  • I.G. Brown Training and Education Center
You'd think that I'd run out of personal safety experiences after several years of writing commentaries on my klutzy screw-ups. But considering that hazards abound, I persist in embarrassing myself again to support the summer safety campaigns - not forgetting to share the lessons that I learned.

I'm not a safety expert, but I think that there are many safety lessons that we can share from our personal lives that help us look out for each other.     

I can point out the time I shot a framing nail into my hand with a nail gun - don't hold the board above where you're nailing - or the time I blacked out in a ship's ventilation space - don't assume the air is good enough. I can recall, in dramatic detail, when I cut into my kneecap with a grinder - make sure you cut away from your body - or when I pitch-poled my sailboat in high winds - don't go out on the lake alone. I also took a photograph ... standing atop a fire-ants' nest (cue the dance of the true screw-up) - watch where you're standing.

Similar to the actor in those insurance TV commercials, who calls himself "Mayhem," the hazards we share are universal, sometimes comical, but certainly not taken lightly when they occur.

Maybe "comical" is not the right feeling, but it's more like we're happy that we escaped serious injury, so we laugh at the circumstance and share it with others.

"I've got my next safety article," I said to my wife, grinning with excitement, when I cleared a 10-foot tree branch from the bike path this spring.

It's not the first time I've dogged branches while jogging. So it was my luck that my annual safety commentary fell from the sky, seconds from widow-maker status, and just weeks away from the 101 Critical Days of Summer.

The branch was dead and rotted. It had broken into several heavy pieces when it fell on the pavement. I waved some bikers around as we tossed its remains into the bushes.  We laughed, and she said something about how close we were. We stayed alert through the rest of the run.

As we ran, I told my wife about a run on the Mt. Vernon Trail in Virginia in 2010, when I got caught in a severe thunderstorm.

It was a Sunday, July 25, and I was "putting in" at least 12 miles. I purposefully choose the tree-lined path to run in the shade as much as possible. It was hot outside, and I scolded myself for sleeping through the cooler morning.

I ran along the Potomac River, from Ronald Reagan Airport and through Old Town, and under the oak trees toward the Mt. Vernon estate. It was peaceful, but I made several critical safety errors.

I ran in the record high heat - near 100 degrees - at the wrong time of the day. I had not looked at the forecast before I left. I ignored the warning rumbles of thunder.

That summer storm - reported as one of the most violent and destructive to hit the D.C. area in years - blew in faster than I estimated. I returned too late. I found myself stuck between the river and the parkway. There was no shelter.  So I ran on, stupidly, into the crashing thunder, lightning, 60-mph wind gusts, flying debris and torrential rain.

Large branches fell around me like spears, which finally brought home that I was amidst some very real danger. So I ran into an open area between a park and a marina. It was a split-second decision. The violence passed in minutes, as quickly as it came. I felt happy to weather it all, despite being soaked.

I slogged home. A sharp ozone smell lingered in the humid air, which had also become much cooler. My shoes were squishy as I made my way back down the trail and it became clear that a major disaster occurred. 

Trees crossed the path. A few miles ahead, outside the power station, was a mass of dead-fall of branches and debris that could have buried me had I chosen to shelter there. Further still, more debris and washouts. I remember that others walked around looking stupefied, maybe wondering what to do.

I stopped and dragged debris from the trail while stumbling around larger obstructions - I did what I could. I found out later that the storm killed two. A news report stated that a boy was stuck by a tree while in a park, and a woman was dead from a tree that fell onto the vehicle she was in.

If I survived my gauntlet as a storm runner it was because of dumb luck and merciful timing. When I recall this story, I'm typically running with someone or swapping running experiences. Certainly, my hope is for others to avoid dumb luck and rely more on managing the risk in their situations and using that knowledge to keep safe.

There's 101 days to explore the trails, and trials, of summer. Run out, and share some stories while you're at it. Please stay safe.