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AFA wins Secretary of the Air Force Safety Award

Posted 8/12/2010   Updated 8/13/2010 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Don Branum

8/12/2010 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Air Force Academy Safety Office had the best safety program of any direct reporting unit or field operating agency in the Air Force during Fiscal Year 2009, the Air Force chief of safety announced in July.

Maj. Gen. Frederick Roggero cited Academy leaders' efforts to make everyone aware of safety and the low mishap rate at the busiest visual flight rules airfield in the United States in naming the Academy's safety office for the Secretary of the Air Force Safety Award.

"I'm extremely proud of our Air Force Academy, and I'm extremely proud of the great safety team that we have," General Roggero said. "But they are the leaders of safety. The executors of safety are all the 4,000-plus cadets and the permanent party here."

The SECAF Safety Award is the highest safety award in the Air Force. Two awards are presented annually, one for major commands and one for DRUs and FOAs. Criteria for selection include safety program management, direction, administration and innovation as well as noteworthy achievements in mishap prevention and the quality of mishap investigations, reports and analyses, according to Air Force Instruction 36-2833, "Safety Awards."

One of the challenges unique to the Academy is its population of 18- to 26-year-old cadets.

"Generally, in the Air Force, the 18-to-26 group is considered to be the most at-risk," said Lt. Col. Bryan Cessna, the Academy's previous director of safety. "We at the Air Force Academy have one of the largest concentrated populations of 18- to 26-year-olds anywhere in the Air Force."

However, the colonel added, this particular group is involved in helping spread the safety message. Cadets also lead and manage their own safety program. Within the Cadet Wing is an entire safety staff, with cadets managing the program at the wing and group staff levels and cadets within each squadron who serve as their squadron's safety officer for a semester.

Another unique challenge is the Academy's airfield.

"We have a whole bunch of folks out there who are inexperienced in the things they're doing, whether it be an initial glider flight, an initial jump or initial powered flight," he said. "We counteract it with great permanent party and great cadet instructors. You train them up, then you let them go do their jobs and trust them to do it, and they do it well."

In FY2009, the Academy's airfield had only four Class C mishaps during more than 200,000 training hours, according to the award package. A Class C mishap is one that causes an injury forcing a victim to lose at least one day away from duty beyond the day that the mishap occurred, or that causes between $20,000 and $200,000 in property damage.

The base had zero reportable motorcycle mishaps in the same time period, a fact that General Roggero attributes to the Academy's proactive measures to make sure each of the Academy's 139 motorcyclists was fully trained by funding a Motorcycle Safety Foundation riders' course.

"The units and the commanders seem to 'get it,'" said General Roggero, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame. "They understand the rules and regulations that they must know. For instance, commanders must know the names of everyone in their unit who operates a motorcycle. ... And those who are riders must understand their responsibility to their commanders that they are operating a motorcycle."

General Roggero cited Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould's involvement with safety as an example for other Air Force bases to follow. In late 2009, General Gould directed everyone at the Academy to fill out the Air Force Cultural Assessment Safety Tool, which is online at https://www.afcast.org/.

"There was no question: he laid the rule down, and everybody lined up and took that cultural assessment survey," General Roggero said. "I think that paid great dividends and was a terrific proactive step. There are many in the Air Force who haven't taken advantage of that program, and their record does not quite equal the great mishap rate at the Air Force Academy."

To have a good safety program, a base must have good commanders, supervisors and wingmen who talk about safety, Colonel Cessna said.

"It's about having leaders who are willing to look their people in the eye and say, 'I need you back. I need you to do this mission, and I need you to do it right, and I need you to be safe while you're out there driving around and doing the things you do," he said.

Commanders can't be the only ones with a sense of ownership in safety, however.

"The person most responsible for your safety looks at you in the mirror every day," said Colonel Cessna, who was a C-5 Galaxy pilot for much of his career before taking over the Academy safety office in 2008. "You have a choice to be safe or not to be safe, and taking the time to make the right choice is how we get an effective safety program."

A third element in an effective safety program is wingmen, both General Roggero and Colonel Cessna said. Airmen can save lives simply by relating to one another.

"Instead of saying, 'You will not do this,' We have to have people saying, 'You're important to me, and you're important to this place. Let's bring you back, and I want to come back to do this mission,'" Colonel Cessna said.

"(Peer relations) can be a very strong influence," General Roggero said. "Don't be afraid to be a wingman. A lot of our Airmen may not appreciate what impact they can have on another Airman's decision, but I tell you, it can be tremendous, and our Airmen should use that power when the occasion presents itself."

The general said he looks forward to seeing the Academy's nomination for FY2010. He thanked both the permanent party Airmen and cadets as well as their families, who have allowed them to serve.

The SECAF Safety award is scheduled to be presented during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., Sept. 13.

2/2/2011 8:55:34 PM ET
As a former member of the Academy Safety office 1998 to 2004 I want to say congratulations to the staff. During my years at the Academy we won the award four years in a row so I know the work and dedication that went into winning the award. Was to go ladies and gentlement.Robbie
Roger Robertson, Wisconsin
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