Keeping Soldiers safe
Peter Higgins, right, a safety and occupational health specialist for the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment deployed in Iraq, shows a soldier how to inspect a vehicle’s fire suppression system, Nov. 8, 2010. Higgins is widely known to soldiers as "Safety Pete" and spends his time educating and informing them on ways to develop safe working habits.

BABIL PROVINCE, Iraq -- As the truck's motor idles, a young soldier sitting in the rear seat peruses a magazine. He is alone as the vehicle's other occupants, including its driver, are retrieving their laundry.

"Where's the driver for this vehicle'" said a voice from outside the truck.

"They're all inside getting their laundry, Pete," answered the soldier inside the truck.

Peter Higgins then sternly tells the soldier, "Someone needs to be in the driver's seat if the truck is running. You guys know the rules."

As Higgins walks on, the truck's driver appears.

"Who was that'" asked the driver.

"Just 'Safety Pete' getting on me about the truck running with nobody in the driver's seat," said the soldier.

The soldiers correct the problem and get moving for the day's mission. They don't question Higgins, they say, because he's simply doing his job. That's why they call him "Safety Pete."

Higgins, a safety and occupational health specialist, has for the past three years worked to ensure that 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment soldiers operate their equipment in a safe manner.

Higgins said he retired from active-Army service in 1999 as a first sergeant and then went to work as a teacher in Killeen, Texas. He said he didn't care much for teaching, so he later went to work as a parole officer for the state of Texas.

"Both were good jobs, but I found myself missing the Army and especially working with soldiers," Higgins said.

After 9/11, Higgins decided he wanted to work for the military as a civilian. Shortly thereafter, the previous 3rd ACR commander contacted him and Higgins went to work for the regiment as its safety officer.

"I spend a lot of my time walking or driving around looking for hazards and unsafe actions or practices the soldiers may be involved in," Higgins said. "When I see something, I typically grab another soldier and let them correct the problem so that others don't make the same mistakes. It comes down to taking care of the soldier, period."

Higgins recently detected a problem with the fire suppression system mounted on a series of trucks in the regiment's inventory. A missed step in the system's installation, coupled with unclear directions for inspection, posed a serious danger to the soldiers.

"I never realized when I reported it how far up it would actually go," he said. "The issue has gone all the way to the Department of Defense, and corrections are now being made to the vehicle's manual."

Higgins said he endeavors "to ensure the safety of the soldiers who are out here doing the missions every day."

"Accidents will happen," he acknowledged, "but they can be prevented if the right information is passed along."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16