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The 365 critical days of basketball

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Let's talk about mishap prevention. I don't know about you, but when I think of Air Force mishap prevention, countless images come to mind of many commander's calls about the 101 Critical Days of Summer, flying safety briefings, Air Force Form 55s, and, of course, the wearing of reflective belts almost 24/7 at certain bases in theater. Although we may sometimes ignore or even poke fun at such programs, overall they have been quite effective. In fact, last year the Air Force had the fewest aircraft mishaps since 1952, as well as the fewest off-duty fatalities in the last 10 years. Air Force leadership and, more importantly, every safety conscious Air Force member should be applauded for their successful efforts in reducing mishap fatalities.

But there's one type of mishap that I'm sure many of us don't think about much until it happens to you or your buddy...basketball! And while a basketball injury is typically not accompanied by the pain and loss of a fatal accident, it can have life changing consequences and a mission impact, if only for the short term. Believe me -- I now know those impacts first hand.

Two months ago I injured my right knee while playing basketball here on base. What started out as an innocent invitation by co-workers to play basketball resulted with a torn ACL, which requires surgery and months of rehabilitation. Also included are the hours spent at medical appointments, medical co-pays, used sick leave and missed work time that co-workers will have to cover, not to mention all the missed outdoor fun and activities with my family.

Unfortunately, I'm not alone in my misery. From 1993 to 2002, basketball injuries led all other sports injuries in the Air Force with 12,520 lost workdays. Basketball was second only to vehicle operations in overall mishap reports. Nationwide there are more than 375,000 basketball injuries requiring emergency treatment annually. Since banning the sport is unrealistic, I suggest the Air Force implement a "365 Critical Days of Basketball" program promoting awareness. I'll kick off the campaign with just a few simple rules to keep in mind before you hit the court:

1. If you are younger than 30-years-old, you might feel like you're invincible, but you're not. Slow down a tad and make sure you are doing things smartly. If you are older than 30-years-old, you're getting older, accept it. Slow down and realize that you don't have to beat the young guys at all costs.

2. Ease into it. Give yourself time to stretch and warm up. If you haven't played in awhile, don't go full throttle.

3. Wear the right gear. Proper shoes are a must. Make sure you wear basketball shoes that have good ankle support and good traction. Don't just join a pickup game in the running shoes you wore to the gym.

I learned these rules the hard way and it has cost me physically, emotionally and monetarily. While not all basketball injuries are avoidable, hopefully you will apply these rules and help your wingmen apply them in order to lessen the chance of a trip to the emergency room during your next game. As you can see, these rules are simple and can be applied to almost any activity. On second thought, how about "365 Critical Days of Being Active and Having Fun While Staying Safe?" Too long?