FORT BENNING, Georgia -- For safety and occupational health professionals across the Army, the practice of risk management and hazard mitigation is best honed in the field with the Soldiers they support. From April 2-7, more than 350 such Department of the Army civilians gathered here for a week of hands-on training designed with those practical skills in mind.

The event, the 2017 Safety and Occupational Health Emerging Leader Summit, was the pilot program for retooling a similar symposium held annually since 2004, according to Dr. Brenda Miller, the functional representative for Career Program 12, the overarching program for the Army's multiple SOH job series.

"This professional development summit was a significant departure from the past, where we focused our training at the GS-14/15 level," she said. "This year it was all about the mid-grade safety professionals at the GS-11/12 level and giving them broad developmental insights they can carry with them for years as they advance in their careers."

The summit kicked off with a keynote address from Maj. Gen. Eric Wesley, commanding general, Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning. He said culture change is necessary to fully implement the ideals of trust and prudent risk, both of which are fundamental to mission command, and challenged each participant to think how they can inspire such change within their formations.

"How does the safety institution breed the behaviors we need that manifest through mission command, what policies are we developing that encourage aggressive, hard, effective training while mitigating risk to our Soldiers but also enabling initiative and creativity in our leaders," Wesley asked. "What you're doing every day is extremely important in a dangerous business."

Throughout the week, SOH careerists from Army organizations worldwide had the opportunity to attend classroom instruction on a wide range of topics, including heat illness prevention, ergonomics, obstacle course risk management, live-fire range inspections and playground safety. For many attendees, though, it was the practical portions of training they found most useful.

Michael Monroe, a safety manager for the U.S. Army Logistics Readiness Center at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, said that while classroom instruction gave safety professionals a good foundation, the hands-on training, such as inspecting an actual outdoor recreational facility and its playground equipment, was invaluable.

"We've gone from the classroom to a real-world environment to see hazards that may harm our families or cause us equipment failures," Monroe said. "I can take this base of knowledge we've gained here back to Fort Sill and go out to our facilities and apply it to everyday operations."

Gordon Tate, a safety manager at U.S. Army Installation Management Command, San Antonio, Texas, provided the playground safety and inspection training at one of Fort Benning's outdoor recreation areas. He said he hopes the practical training helped clear up some misperceptions about the different aspects of playground safety.

"There's a lot of confusion at the installations on what constitutes a safe playground and what (facilities inspectors) should be looking for," Tate said. "When they return to their installations, I hope they have a better idea of what is required to keep our most precious assets, our children, safe. There's going to be bumps and bruises, but what we're trying to do is avoid the big injuries. This course will help those who attended to know what to look for."

Steve Murane, safety director, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, Quantico, Virginia, had similar hopes for the safety professionals who attended the practical portion of the tactical safety and range inspection course he taught at Fort Benning's live-fire range. He said it was important for those who took the course to have the opportunity to see firsthand the hazards they'll need to look for when inspecting ranges, as well as the risks associated with operating a live-fire range.

"I can show them on the ground what a firing point looks like, what a target area looks like, what the different aspects of a particular range are in relation to the whole training area," Murane said. "It also gives the individuals an opportunity to conduct their own hazard analysis of the range and go through the whole thought process of what you would be concerned about when coming out to a live-fire range."

Murane was hopeful the training would instill the same passion he felt as young safety specialist first entering the world of tactical range safety.

"It's one of the most rewarding experiences a safety professional can have," he said. "It gets you out working directly with the Soldiers on a daily basis and gives you a much better understanding of what they go through in regards to getting ready to deploy and go into battle. I want to get that spark ignited so they'll pursue this area of the safety world."

Over at Fort Benning's grueling obstacle course, safety pros once again had the opportunity to experience firsthand the measures they must take to keep Soldier training safe.

"If we can bring them out to the same environment they're going to see back at home station, show them the proper techniques to negotiate these obstacles and give them an opportunity to try them, I think they'll have a better understanding of the standards," said David Lumley, safety manager at TRADOC Headquarters, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, and an instructor for the obstacle course risk management training during the SOHS. "When they get back to their home stations they're then able to identify what's right and what's wrong."

Gregory McCoy, a safety specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, San Francisco District, praised the hands-on training he received at the course and used the opportunity to test his mettle on several of the obstacles. He agreed with Lumley's belief that going into the field provides a side of training many don't get to experience.

"The best way to figure out the math on an acre is to go out and walk it," McCoy said. "So getting out here and actually navigating the courses allowed me to be more aware of the issues Soldiers face."

Luis Natal of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, echoed McCoy's approval of the onsite training provided at the obstacle course.

"It's great anytime you can get out into the field and apply what you learned in the classroom," Natal added. "I'll take that over a PowerPoint any day."

Kelly Holmes-Smith, a CP-12 intern and safety engineer with the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Environment, Safety and Occupational Health), said the obstacle course risk management lesson gave her a deeper appreciation of what Soldiers are required to negotiate during their training. She believes the knowledge she gleaned will be useful in her career.

"We have obstacle courses all over the world," she said. "I'm hoping to use what I learned and apply it in all facets of design … such as the requirements to have a challenging, but also safe course so Soldiers are able to go to their next mission."

The week's activities closed with a candid question-and-answer session with Eugene Collins, DASA (ESOH) and CP-12 functional chief. He not only addressed the group's common concerns, but also pledged to continue offering training opportunities to junior professionals in CP-12.

"This young and up-and-coming generation is our future," Collins said. "It's incumbent upon us, the more senior folks in the SOH community, to invest in them and broaden their horizons."

For more information on the Army SOH Program or CP-12, visit https://safety.army.mil.