By Mr. Johnathon Orrell (SDDC)January 24, 2019
Performing port operations is an essential part of the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command's (SDDC) mission of integrating and synchronizing surface deployment and distribution capabilities to deliver and sustain the armed forces. Port operations are inherently hazardous and, when not conducted safely, can lead to severe injury or loss of life.
Senior leaders are responsible for ensuring that the Soldiers and civilians who spend hours at the ports, often in austere locations with dangerous working conditions, conduct safe and successful operations. Their unit safety managers provide support by applying and enforcing safety rules and regulations.
"We have a lot of movement in different areas. We have movements above us, below us and next to us. If you are not paying attention and doing things in a safe manner, you could be hurt or even worse, killed," said Wolfgang Rieth, safety manager for the 598th Transportation Brigade headquartered at Sembach, Germany.
With 28 years of experience in safety management, Rieth has seen every aspect of port operations and knows exactly what needs to be done at the port to ensure missions are completed in the safest manner possible.
"We are trying to avoid taking shortcuts to make things happen faster, ensuring everyone understands the rules, avoids horse-play and adheres to the standards," he said.
During a typical port operation, everyone at the port gathers for a pre-mission rundown of hazards and equipment requirements.
Recently, during brigade operations at the Port of Antwerp in Belgium, temperatures were below freezing, there were patches of ice on the ground, and according to Rieth, winds were blowing hard enough to cause exposure injuries. To avoid any potential safety issues, Rieth briefed participants about frigid-temperature-injury prevention.
"We are trying to avoid having a fatality or injury. When we have a fatality or injury … that is mission failure," he said.
Col. Jin Pak, the 598th Transportation Brigade commander, concurs. "At any time, if we have a safety incident, it has a significant impact on our ability to complete the mission," he said.
But it's more than just the mission that Pak thinks of when it comes to port safety.
"I value people number one," said Pak. "Not only the people within the 598th and SDDC, but all of the people supporting the port operations."
"I strongly believe that our people are our most important resource and asset," continued Pak. "We put a lot of training and investment into our people so that they can do their job, and losing any one of them not only has an immediate impact on readiness, but it has a long-term effect on any unit's ability to recover from that experience."
Practicing safe port operations not only makes the difference between mission success or mission failure, it can be the difference between life and death.