Military News

Thursday, April 23, 2015

SFC Ron Albert: Officially the safest NCO in USARAK

by Capt. Richard Packer
2d Engineer Brigade PAO

4/23/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Sgt. 1st Class Ron Albert is the 2014 winner of the Director of Army Safety Risk Management Award.

A member of U.S. Army Alaska's 2d Engineer Brigade, Albert recently returned from deployment to Afghanistan with his brigade headquarters.
That is where he showed his safety mettle as a construction manager on Bagram Airfield.

With the assembly of more than 3,000 wooden buildings and other temporary structures over 13 years of continuous conflict, Bagram Airfield was likened to a "Frankenstein" by top commanders due to the way it had been pieced together over the course of the war.

In preparation for the Resolute Support mission and the right-sizing of International Security Assistance Forces - Afghanistan's largest base, the engineers on Bagram were under tremendous pressure to tear down wooden barracks, offices, gazebos, patios and most other wooden structures.

Everything demolished by military engineers saved America the cost of paying contractors to do the work later.

With this pressure to work swiftly came the added risk of accidents and injury.

"Engaged leaders are the key to reducing our most prevalent cause of Army mishaps - human error," said Ron Andree, the U.S. Army Alaska safety manager who deployed with the brigade and submitted Albert for the award.

This is where Albert proved his safety value and expertise.

He was responsible for overseeing site safety and adherence to standards for thousands of deconstruction projects.

He supervised the safety of vertical and horizontal deconstruction projects for five modular Army Reserve and National Guard engineer construction companies.

The main effort was deconstruction using heavy machinery and hand tools - work which is commonly associated with higher risk for personal injuries.
"On the average day we'd have approximately 22 deconstruction sites being worked by about 180 Soldiers. They were operating cranes, excavators, loaders, tractor-trailers, dump trucks; all kinds of heavy machinery," Andree said.

"They were tearing down buildings, massive tension fabric structure tents, earth-filled barriers and moving concrete T-walls and bunkers to better protect coalition forces from enemy attacks," he said.

Every project was different. Each one had to be individually evaluated for whether heavy equipment could be maneuvered through areas congested by buildings to expedite the deconstruction or whether the project would be done by hand.

"I've been in the Army for 23 years and deployed five times. I've always been around construction equipment. With these heavy machines, if Soldiers aren't careful then it's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt," Albert said. "I believe every accident is preventable. If safety is a priority, if leaders are engaged in having proper techniques and procedures in place, then any accident can be prevented."

For Albert, taking care of Soldiers is the best job in the Army.

According to his philosophy, leadership doesn't happen from behind a desk.

He said he believes if Soldiers are out working in the heat, dust and grime, then those directly responsible for their safety should be out there with them.

"Teaching and training younger NCOs is the most important part of a good safety program," Albert said. "The first-line supervisors, the leaders on the ground working beside Soldiers, they are the ones who are going to enforce standards, make sure Soldiers are wearing their protective equipment and are following the safety procedures set by commanders."

Albert has seen many Soldiers hurt throughout his career because someone cut corners by neglecting safety standards.

He said he believes in the Army's risk management program and knows it can save lives when properly applied to operations.

"Risk assessments are just a piece of paper if they aren't followed and enforced. That's how people get injured," Albert said. "I wasn't going to let that happen on my worksites. Our unit made safety a priority at every level and went the whole deployment without having any serious injuries. That's all the proof I need that risk management works."

Albert has not yet been officially presented the award. Director of Army Safety, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Farnsworth, expressed his interest in flying to Alaska to give the plaque to Albert personally.

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