Commentary: Motorcycle Tragedy Offers Life Lessons

  • Published
  • By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Sadek O. Brandford
  • 27 SOSS/OSM
As Air Force supervisors and mentors, we have enormous responsibilities and a strong sense of dedication when it comes to duty, honor and country. We hear all the time how airmen are really doing some remarkable things, and how airmen are making a difference all around the world. We also hear about protecting our loved ones and fellow airmen - it is a top priority whether it is down range or on the home front. Unfortunately, there are times when we lose airmen in the combat zone and to traffic accidents at home station. We must learn from these events and ensure they are not forgotten.

My friend and co-worker Senior Airman Juan Navarro lost his life due to an unfortunate motorcycle accident. I was his sponsor at our first duty station at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. I remembered him from the first time he drove on base, checking into lodging, asking questions about the base and the unit, telling me his short-term and long-term goals. He was the type of guy who was always looking for a competition, whether it is on the track running, tasking at work, or even winning awards. From the get-go he always competed with me, and in a short period of time we became competitors. I had so many "best room" awards at Laughlin AFB until he finally beat me, instructor of the quarter for our unit. Until he finally beat me, he was always competing. We even made crazy bets about who would make master sergeant first. Today, I still remember him every time I walk into a room to test for promotion.

One of Navarro's long-term goals was to represent the Air Force as a boxer during the Olympics. At work, he would brag how he grew up in a boxing family. He often brought up boxing techniques in discussions - even when the conversation had nothing to do with boxing. It was his passion.

One morning, during physical training, our superintendent gave us personal workout time. Navarro looked at me and said, "Let's spar a little." It was a moment I had been waiting for a long time just to see if he was any good.

We got boxing gloves from the front desk at the gym, and found a room, where he explained the rules of sparring. We started going round for round not giving up, no matter how tired and exhausted we were, we just kept sparring. I could tell we both shared a mentality of never giving up no matter what the situation was. I also recall how punching Navarro was like punching a brick wall -- this guy never took a break, never gave up. We didn't want to be late to work so we had to stop; but in the back of my mind I was telling myself, 10 more seconds and I would have called it quits. He really was that good of a fighter.

In April 2007, a friend sent me a message asking if Navarro had died and I immediately said "No, I left him at Laughlin doing OK." So I called back to a friend when I heard of the tragic, accident. I was shocked; I didn't know what to say. He was young, ambitious and wanted to do well by the Air Force. On April 23, 2007, Navarro was doing what many of us do every day - taking his motorcycle to get some dinner off base. Despite some bad weather rolling in, he continued to go off base, and lost control going around a corner. In a flash, Navarro was gone. The next day, the flag on base was lowered to half-staff in his honor and a memorial service was held. The unit felt a great loss; and so did I. To this day I still have the email announcing that he passed away.

I know we cannot control who lives or dies but we should continue as leaders to make sure we are aware of what our airmen are doing on and off duty. As peers we should try to be aggressive in helping each other make the right decision. This article is not only about remembering my friend, Navarro, it's about us taking a few moments every day to think about the risks we take on a daily basis. Be bold with your safety programs, be a well-trained military rider, and continue to serve as an American airman.