By U.S. Army Combat Readiness CenterAugust 16, 2018
FORT BENNING, Georgia - More than 350 safety and occupational health careerists from Army organizations worldwide converged on Fort Benning earlier this summer to experience real-world training and hear from senior leaders on issues involving risk management in today's operational environment, all as part of the 2018 Army SOH Emerging Leader Summit.
This marked the second consecutive year Fort Benning hosted the summit, an event planned, coordinated and executed annually by the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, Fort Rucker, Alabama.
"Fort Benning is an ideal location for SOH professionals to step outside their comfort zones and train on tasks they typically don't perform in their duty locations," said Dr. Brenda Miller, functional chief representative for Career Program-12, the Army's SOH career path, at the USACRC. "There's such a wide variety of missions here that everyone can learn something of value for their commands, both current and future."
Summit participants completed classroom and hands-on exercises covering a variety of topics such as explosives safety, leader development, combatives risk management and tactical vehicle driver training during the event, which spanned from June 3-8.
For Hye Nan An, an SOH specialist with the Camp Humphreys, Korea, garrison safety office, obstacle course inspection training was particularly important. She and other careerists toured Fort Benning's confidence course, where they learned the importance of maintaining obstacles and other risk management measures they must consider to keep Soldiers safe.
Upon her return to Korea, An will conduct her first inspection of the installation's new obstacle course.
"We need to conduct semi-annual inspections, but I had no knowledge on how to do that," she said. "Through this course I was able to gain that knowledge and experience from the instructors, which will be very useful for our installation."
An also found interacting with her classmates helpful.
"We are from different (SOH specialties) and have different experiences," she said. "So I was able to share (my experience) and ask questions and use their expertise."
John Cannon agreed. He believes hands-on training and interacting with fellow safety professionals will pay dividends for his organization long after he returns to Oregon, where he's the SOH chief for the Portland District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"I really feel it's not just what you know, but who you know," Cannon said. "If you run across a problem, you now know who to reach out to if it's in an area where you might not have that expertise."
Cannon enjoys going out to the field to get a glimpse of Army organizations at work. During an ergonomics training session at the Fort Benning rigger shed, he was able to observe Soldiers as they packed parachutes and conducted quality control inspections.
"Having a better understanding of what workers in the field do really helps us implement our SOH program," Cannon said. "It's been good to see not only what USACE does, but also the Army in general. They do some dangerous missions, so it's nice to see the different aspects of what they do to keep Soldiers safe."
This real-world training is critical for safety professionals like An and Cannon, said Ursula Kilow, an industrial hygienist from Lyster Army Health Clinic at Fort Rucker. Kilow taught an instruction block on hazard response at Fort Benning's shoot house, which included taking clearance samples and interpreting the results.
"A lot of times, if you're in an office, you don't see the environment related to the information you are reviewing," Kilow said. "It's good to come out and take a look at the environment. It keeps your skills fresh and also gives you an interesting perspective and appreciation for the things that you do and the results and reports you are reviewing."
In addition to practical training exercises, summit attendees also had a chance to interact with senior Army leaders during daily keynote addresses. Each leader emphasized a common theme: Soldiering is a naturally dangerous business, but SOH professionals can help make it less so.
"What we do as an Army is inherently risky, and the battlefield is a very dangerous place," said Donald Sando, deputy to the commanding general, Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning. "The important thing is to identify the risks, understand the risks, and mitigate the risks. If you don't know what they are and you don't understand them, you really can't mitigate them well."
Colonel Douglas Vincent, commander of Fort Benning's Airborne Ranger Training Brigade, agreed.
"All the planning in the world can't account for chance," he said. "You mitigate chance. You never gamble, but you do have to take risks."
Global instability also poses unique challenges for Soldiers, leaders and SOH professionals alike, according to Maj. Gen. Richard Kaiser, commander, Mississippi Valley Division, USACE.
"The world is no safer than when I joined; in fact, it's much more complex and dynamic," he said. "We need each and every one of you. As our institution continues to move forward, we need what you bring to our Army. We need safety leaders to help guide commanders in what they do."