Those who serve in the military always face a certain amount of risk. From the outside, many people think that combat with the enemy is the only danger, but troops face all sorts of peril and uncertainty, both at war and in peacetime training missions. For example, a recent, tragic accident hit the news when a Navy flight surgeon was struck and killed while on-base at Camp Pendleton.
Fatalities like these make headlines, but there are many smaller accidents that happen within the military, too — some of which are preventable with just a little thought. For a while, the Navy Safety Center used humor to drive home the need to think things through while on duty, while off duty, or even while in one's own kitchen. Every week, from 1992 until the retirement of Derek Nelson in 2015, the Navy Safety Center sent out a brief message to the fleet every Friday.
Sailors assigned to amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset (LPD 25) respond to an accident scene on the flight deck during an aircraft firefighting drill simulation. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Vladimir Ramos)
"Some people think safety is serious business, and of course it is. People get maimed, blinded, and killed, but in terms of getting the message out, humor has a real role to play," Nelson said in a 2007 Navy release. The Navy began to call these weekly messages, the "Friday Funnies."
In one release, Nelson highlighted the folly of taking shortcuts. The release told the cautionary tale of two Marine sergeants who tried to take a shortcut to get some training and ended up flipping the vehicle they were in. Thanks to seatbelts and airbags, they walked away with just scratches and bruises. Another release mentioned how an Army "man overboard" drill using a real Soldier lead to the need to call in a Navy P-3 for assistance — the Soldier was found three hours later.
Seaman Max Norum, a corpsman with Headquarters and Support Company, 1st Supply Battalion, treats Sgt. Brandon Jackson for injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif. (USMC photo)
Sometimes, however, the releases were not so funny. One from May 2008 discussed the death of a Navy petty officer first class in a street luge accident that occurred while he was on leave. In this case, Nelson looked over the deceased sailor's MySpace page and noted that twice the sailor had posted about "injuries that may have warranted a WESS injury report or at least counseling from his supervisor."
It's been two years since Nelson's retirement and the last of the "Friday Funnies." Even then, Nelson noted that the "juicy" tales had grown scarcer, writing in his retirement message that "it has been getting harder to find them in the mishap reports. I'll chalk this fact up as progress, and I'll be gone before anyone can prove different."
Sailors assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3 stand in formation to signify that HSC-3 has reached 250,000 consecutive flight hours without a Class A mishap. A Class A mishap is classified as an accident with a destroyed aircraft, damages that exceed $2 million, a loss of life or a permanent total disability. (U.S. Navy photo illustration by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Amanda Huntoon)
The Friday Funnies were effective for over 23 years, though. Nelson said in 2007, "I get emails from people saying they almost did something stupid but stopped at the last minute because they didn't want to end up in the Friday Funnies." The best incidents were preserved in a magazine – no word on when the full archives will be available online.
In the meantime, Nelson describes how he made the magic happen in this 2011 video.