In a ceremony Friday afternoon, Fort Indiantown Gap's Army Aviation Support Facility became the first Army National Guard facility in the nation to be award a "Star Status" flag in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Voluntary Protection Program.

The event featured awarding the star status flag by Mr. Ed Selker, deputy regional administrator, OSHA Region III.

Also speaking at the ceremony were Major General Jessica Wright, adjutant general of Pennsylvania, Mr. Tad Davis, Army deputy assistant for environment, safety and occupational health, Col. Steve Mahoney, commander of the Army aviation support facility, and Sgt. Matthew Dohner, Association of Civilian Technicians steward.

"VPP is all about employees and making significant reductions in accident rates," said Col. Steve Mahoney, facility commander. "VPP's bottom-up approach means employees are truly driving the process from identification of problems to implementing solutions."

According to Mahoney, sites that implement VPP concepts see a very large, long term, reduction in accidents and incidents. "We're seeing greatly improved safety results at AASF, so OSHA's VPP concept does work. It also has a significant side benefit of getting management and employees to work side-by-side for a common goal."

VPP sets performance-based criteria for management commitment, employee involvement, hazard recognition and mitigation, and employee training. OSHA's verification process includes an application review and a rigorous multi-day onsite evaluation by a team of OSHA safety and health experts. VPP contributes to the Secretary's effort, overseen by the Defense Safety Oversight Council, to reduce preventable accidents to zero.

Fort Indiantown Gap's AASF began its VPP journey in 2007 with the help of the DOD VPP Center of Excellence (VPPCX). The VPPCX conducted an analysis of the AASF and then worked with the facility as they developed a plan.

A key part of the VPP process for Fort Indiantown Gap was selection of the initial VPP site and partnering with VPP mentors. "AASF #1 was chosen because Army Aviation has built-in safety infrastructure," said VPP Coordinator and CH-47 Instructor Pilot Mr. Paul DeVincenzo.

"Because the site had already been conditioned to a higher safety standard it had a leg up in reaching its VPP goals." The base partnered with Tobyhanna Army Depot and General Electric. These partnerships led AASF to form employee committees that created bottom-up change. As a result the facility quickly started to see a drop in accident rates.

Just as important to AASF's success was partnership with the Association of Civilian Technicians (ACT) - the union on base. Union buy-in and participation was crucial to the base reaching its goals. "ACT was a strong partner from the very beginning," said DeVincenzo, "helping to get management on board quickly."

Unlike many Department of Defense sites that have attained VPP Star Status, Fort Indiantown Gap is unique in that most workers are uniformed - federal civilians during the week and uniformed members of the National Guard on weekends. This allows Fort Indiantown Gap to stand as an example for other DoD sites with large numbers of uniformed military workers.

"Our VPP journey is not over with the awarding of the flag," said Mahoney. "In order to retain our Star Status we must recertify every XX years and we must be a mentor to other organizations striving for Star Status. This has the added benefit of exposing us to new ideas and helping us to continually improve."

(William Murray is a public affairs specialist with the New Media directorate of American Forces Information Service.)