Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Office looks to keep Airmen safe

by Staff Sgt. Andrew McLaughlin
434th ARW/Public Affairs

12/10/2014 - GRISSOM AIR RESERVE BASE, Ind.,  -- While juggling a chainsaw isn't safe, sometimes juggling everyone's safety is just as complicated.

The 434th Air Refueling Wing's safety office juggles ground, flying and weapon systems to ensure Grissom's workforce gets the job done without getting hurt.

"At regular Air Force bases whole divisions are dedicated to the individual components of our triad," said Lt. Col. Doug Perry, 434th ARW chief of safety.

"Because of our smaller installation, we don't have that luxury," Perry said. "We must cover all three areas with a fraction of the people, - and get the same results.

"We may run the commander's program, but people put the mission into action, and its inherent they have the knowledge and tools they need to get the job done right and without harm," he added. "But ultimately its everyone's responsibility."

Grissom's mission is to provide aerial refueling, and that starts with the boots on the ground and works its way into the cockpit and flight operations.

"Before jets are launched, people have to get to their work spaces and do all that encompasses supporting our aerial refueling mission," Perry said.

"It starts on the ground," said Johnny Armes, 434th ARW ground safety manager. "We have to ensure that people are doing their jobs safely, and I take pride in ensuring people have the tools they need to get the job done and return home to their families at night."

"Fall protection is getting a lot of attention now," Armes explained. "We must ensure that people are doing these critical tasks with the safety net that is in place."

Work on the ground sometimes isn't quite on the ground, and it's a point of emphasis for the safety staff.

Once all the tasks are done on the ground to get the aircraft off of it, another facet of the safety program takes off - flight safety.

Within flight safety, one of the largest programs is aviation maintenance safety.

"I routinely work with our local maintainers on trending mishaps, incidents, in-flight emergences and both air and ground aborts," Perry said. "This often requires coordinating with outside agencies such as the Air Force Safety Center and depot-level engineers."

That thoroughness helps the staff to identify potential trends.

"If a particular part, process or human factor is trending in a negative direction it is critical we identify and track that to prevent future mishaps," he added.

"Our maintainers provide us fantastic jets," Perry said. "They are reliable and remarkably well maintained. We control what we can control very well."

What the workforce at Grissom can't quite control are the feathered friends that we share space with - birds.

"People think birds aren't a big deal, but they have caused accidents in the past and will cause them again in the future," Perry said.  "We have to deal with them the best that we can."

To do that Grissom has a bird aircraft strike hazard program. BASH uses a variety of measures to help minimize the risk of sharing Grissom's airspace.

From maintaining a standard height of grasses to discourage nesting, to noise deterrence and more, aircrew members can rest assured that safety is doing all they can to lessen the danger, Perry said.

However, sometimes sharing the same airspace at the same time does occur, and when it does pilots must submit bird strike reports. Safety collects the feathers and sends them to the feather identification lab at the Smithsonian Institute to help identify wildlife trends.

"I never thought I'd become a bird expert," Perry said. "But it comes with the job."

The third area of responsibility is weapon safety.

While the KC-135R Stratotanker isn't an airframe that carries weapons, the need for weapons safety has always been in place.

"The Air Force mandates that every base must have a safe-haven area for vehicles transporting explosives in the event of an emergency," said Jerry Skiles, 434th ARW weapons safety manager. "We have an identified area on the airfield we use that would minimize damage in the event of a weapons related accident."

The recent addition of an explosives ordnance unit also shaped Grissom's involvement.

We ensure that EOD has the proper facilities to store sensitive and vital equipment, Skiles said.

"We have also been involved in planning the best location for a new EOD proficiency range which evolved into a land acquisition process," Perry explained.

"This will let EOD conduct their training with minimal disturbance to the rest of the base," Skiles added.

Even with their three-pronged approach to keeping Grissom safe, accidents do occur. When they do, the safety team looks to learn from it.
"Proactive safety in all areas is essential," Perry said.  "Many times we find ourselves in a reactive situation, but we investigate and learn to ensure future mishap prevention."

"We look at trending factors of mishaps locally and Air Force-wide," said Master Sgt. Zachary Chapin, 434th ARW noncommissioned officer in charge of ground safety. "We want to identify potential problems if they exist and alert leadership so we can take preventative actions."

"The bottom line is we have to get the mission done," Perry added. "We can't take shortcuts. We can't cut corners, and we can't take unnecessary risks."

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