'Safety First:' Division, Brigade safety coordinators ensure combat power
October 8, 2008
FORT IRWIN Calif. - For the first three days since their arrival at the National Training Center (NTC) located here at Fort Irwin, Calif., Troops of the 'Ironhorse' Brigade have conducted the largest vehicle draw in the history of NTC, according to Maj. Jim Outland, 1st Brigade supply officer from Bridgeton N.J.
Two men ensured the smoothness and safety of this operation, Harker Heights, Texas native, Dale Smith, safety director for the 1st Cavalry Division, and 1st Brigade Safety and Occupational Health Specialist, Stephen W. Bell, of Nolanville, Texas. However, overseeing the rail-head operations and convoy movements of a large vehicle draw is just a fraction of the service these two retired service members and their counterparts provide.
"Our primary goal is training," said Bell. "Generally speaking there is a certain level of inexperience among the junior Soldiers and NCOs we have out here; it is a matter of training. Its all about getting on the ground and making sure they understand what the standards are, because once they are shown and taught the standards there is a steady climb of improvement amongst the brigade."
"Ironhorse" safety professionals pull information from all areas of the brigade's operational footprint to provide Soldiers an accurate picture of what going on around them.
"We gather all the injury data from the medics, we make stops at all the (forward operating bases) in the box, we are overseeing everything out here not just convoy movements," said Smith. "We are observing trends, and producing standards to prevent a loss of combat power."
The simplest example of just how meticulous Smith and Bell are, is blank adapters says Bell. These are simple safety devices, however used the wrong way can become a safety hazard, which can cause serious malfunction to the weapon or injury to the personnel operating that weapon.
"The yellow adapters say for M-4 only, if you unscrew it and look at the side there is a little hole that is double the size on an M-4 as it is on an M-16, Bell said. "An M-16, because it has a longer barrel and a longer gas tube, requires more pressure in the barrel off of the blank to make the bolt function, the M-4 significantly less. So, I noticed a lot of soldiers running around with these red blank adapters on an M-4."
Bell explained the possibility for serious injury if troops fire the weapon repeatedly with blanks. One potential exists to blow the adapter completely off and injury somebody with it. Another is to damage the gas tube on the M-4, so that it doesn't work, reducing the premier battlefield rifle into an expensive club.
"The chain of command wasn't aware of this, so by informing them of the hazards and educating them upfront, we may save the Army quite a bit of money in damaged weapons, and prevent the injury of a Soldier," Bell added.
All things considered Smith and Bell have seen a higher standard of safety practices during this rotation at NTC. The brigade has had no major damage to equipment or serious personnel injuries during the brigade's record setting vehicle draw and rail-head movement.
"If we see something wrong it's our job to fix it," said Bell. "But we are not always around-it starts within the units; the chain of command, from E-1 all the way up to Sergeant Major. Not only do they need to implement the standards we are pushing down through the brigades, but they need to keep a look out for hazards of their own. The better we all become at identifying safety hazards the easier my job becomes, and the better prepared our troops are, because we haven't had a loss in combat power due to injury or an accident," he said.
Smith says that as a safety officer, it's all about being the commanders' eyes and ears, observing the trends in injuries and accidents to inform the chain of command on how to mitigate troop and equipment losses in a deployed or garrison environment.
"Everything out here is a training event or an opportunity to train," he said. "We have to make sure everyone knows what right looks like and that they are applying these standards across the board, and as long as we as a brigade continue to do these things we will be successful."