Groundhog Day redux

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Timothy Wollmuth
  • 934th Operations Support Squadron commander
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. -- George Santayana

Ever since the "cult" film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray as meteorologist Phil Connors and Andie MacDowell as his producer, Rita, "groundhog" has come to mean an event or situation which is unpleasant, unchanging or repetitive. In the film, Phil Connors and Rita are sent to Punxsutawney, PA to report for their television audience on whether or not Punxsutawney Phil, the official groundhog, will see his shadow.

Having grown tired of this assignment, Phil grudgingly gives his report and attempts to return to Pittsburgh when a blizzard shuts down the roads. Phil and his team are forced to stay in town an extra day. Phil wakes up to find that he is reliving Feb. 2. Each morning, Phil Connors wakes at 6:00 a.m. to the sounds of the Sony and Cher hit song, "I got you Babe," meets the same people and re-lives the exact same events. He quickly discovers that he is stuck in a time loop regardless of what he does to change his world.

His behavior becomes rude, unpredictable, and reckless as he pursues his own interests instead of the best interest of those around him. Eventually through his pursuit of Rita, he learns to better himself by learning to speak French, ice sculpt and play piano, all the while timing the rescue of the people throughout Punxsutawney from the bad events of Groundhog Day.

As I recently watched this film again, I was struck by the notion that much of life can at times seem like Phil Connors' life. We have daily, monthly, and annual routines to accomplish. The early morning alarm clock, daily exercise, weekly music lessons, monthly meetings, annual birthdays, paying taxes, holidays......

Air Force training can definitely feel like groundhog events as it seems I am accomplishing training over and over again that I feel I just accomplished last month. While this feeling of déjà vu can be unnerving, most concerning is the risk associated with complacency when accomplishing repetitive tasks.

Accomplishing the same tasks repetitively can be hazardous to our mission, Air Force assets and our selves. While repetition itself can be an effective learning method, eventually, the risk of complacency in having "been there, done that" can grow out of control if we are not always vigilant about maintaining our professional edge. This past summer a pilot destroyed a C-17 aircraft and killed the crew while training for a routine airshow at Elmendorf AFB, AK. There was nothing "routine" about that mission and unlike Phil Connors in Groundhog Day, this crew does not get a second chance. Reckless behavior or complacency because of significant levels of repetition in our training and deployment cycles can lead to disaster.

When we get that feeling that we are accomplishing another "routine" process, training event or sortie, for the thousandth time, take pause for a moment to remember that the repetitive method by which we maintain our skills and accomplish our work can be exactly that which could lead to trouble on many levels if we don't maintain our focus. Every task should be treated with the same attention to detail as though it were the first time it were being accomplished, while carefully applying the lessons learned from past experience to achieve a better outcome.

Like Phil Connors eventually learned in the film, every day is Groundhog Day. How we approach that day and the day's events makes all the difference in what we accomplish and who we are. Keep your vigilance up as you accomplish that same task, make that same repair, go on routine patrol, fly that same mission, or accomplish that same administrative process. Don't allow yourself to be doomed to repeat the past and above all, avoid the groundhog shadow of complacency!