By Michael M. Novogradac, U.S. Army Operational Test Command Public Affairs Officer
WEST FORT HOOD, Texas — For the first time since 2012, the Army Combat Readiness Center sent a trainer here to provide a mobile, abbreviated version of its Ground Safety Officer Course targeted to operational testers.
Dubbed locally as the “Additional Duty Safety Officer Course,” equipment test NCOs and three Army Civilians of the U.S. Army Operational Test Command (OTC) attended the week-long condensed course.
According to OTC Safety Manager Mr. Reginald Jones, the primary goal was to enhance risk mitigation efforts during operational testing.
“This is where the rubber meets the road,” Jones said. “We’re doing it to educate the Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) Noncommissioned Officers on safety procedures during test, while also giving them an overview of the Army Safety Program.”
Focus was also across the broad spectrum of working in a garrison environment, and how to apply safety for Department of the Army Civilians, contractors, and Soldiers both on and off duty.
When it comes to operational testing, Jones explained how the RDT&E NCOs are on site all the time and can act as safety officers.
“They’re on top,” he said. “They’ve got oversight of the test unit, so they’re supposed to make corrections as they see them and make safety recommendations.”
Jones explained operational testers and Soldiers conducting tests are the Army’s most treasured resource no matter how technical testing becomes, and safety of Soldiers is his foremost concern.
“Many times, the test unit is a platoon or even a squad verses an actual unit,” he said. “This is the first time the equipment that’s under test gets to a Soldier’s hands, and is the last time the equipment is looked at before it goes back to the Army Evaluation Command to make a determination on whether it is suitable for our Soldiers and our Armed Forces.”
OTC Commander Brig. Gen William D. “Hank” Taylor gave his thoughts on test safety to course students from the start.
“What we do is inherently dangerous,” Taylor said.
“It’s interesting that I have only one safety officer,” as he pointed to Mr. Jones. “He cannot be everywhere.”
In his aviation career, Taylor said he is used to having a school-trained safety officer in every company.
“I think it’s very important for all of our test NCOs and officers to all have the basic understanding and information of what the Army regulations and expectations are. I look at our test directorates as brigades, so we have to add those additional duty safety officers,” he said. “When you go back to your directorates, I need to have you school-trained so you can understand two things: the prevention, and then the action if an accident does happen.
“I need people out there who can work with test units and understand responsibility.”
Taylor made it clear that accidents are bound to happen during realistic training, and are nothing to shy away from.
“Recording accidents does not mean you are in trouble,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we’re a bad organization. It doesn’t mean I am going to look unfavorably at NCO and officer evaluations. No!”
Instead, Taylor said he wants to study safety trends so OTC can improve.
“Life is Life,” he said. “What I want to be able to do as a commander, is look out and see the trends. Right now I can’t really see that as well as I want to. I want to increase our safety capabilities to be able to know ourselves, on test and off test.”
One student — an Army Civilian employee in the OTC resource Management Office — spent time as an Army truck driver and ammunition NCO, and is now OTC’s senior cost analyst.
With 21 years as a Soldier and 10 years reviewing cost estimates for all equipment tests, Mr. Ysa Garza said everyone always has to be safety conscience in his role as an additional duty safety officer.
“I care and I would like to improve safety for my directorate,” he said. “In the line of work that I do in an office, we don’t deal with military equipment, but when we lift heavy items or move furniture, you can hurt yourself.
“After coming to the class and seeing all the different types of accidents that could happen by people who are not paying attention, they could have their heater too close, or plugged into a surge protector — the class helps me look after them.”
One rotary wing RDT&E NCO in OTC’s Aviation Test Directorate, who has deployed 13 times to Iraq and Afghanistan explained how every aviation battalion has an aviation safety officer, and sees himself as a safety coach and mentor.
“Not knowing the experience of the test units I will work with,” said Sgt. 1st Class Leo Rubio, “now I am able to stand back and look at the bigger picture to make sure each individual Soldier also looks at the bigger picture and is doing what they are supposed to be doing when considering safety.”
The course instructor was happy to bring his safety expertise to Fort Hood.
“It all goes to readiness,” said Mr. Benjamin S. Valentine, chief of resident safety training at the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, Fort Rucker, Ala.
“A lot of people don’t realize that safety is a combat multiplier,” he continued.
“It’s one of those tools commanders have to help maintain the readiness of their unit by helping prevent loss of personnel and equipment. These courses are there to help our safety folks in the field as they advise their commanders on what things they can do to help prevent loss in their organizations.”
Valentine said throughout the Army, leaders must be geared toward accident prevention.
“We don’t want to be reactive,” he said. “We want to be able to identify trends; identify things that are killing our Soldiers; hurting our Soldiers and destroying our equipment, and then go figure out what we can do to prevent those from happening.”
Saying people are the most precious asset preventing accidents is key.
“Every individual has the responsibility to stop unsafe acts and to be checking their environment to make sure they are aware of what hazards are out there and what they can do to mitigate those hazards,” said Valentine.
To see safety classes available to units, go to http://safety.army.mil – and click on the “Help/Feedback/Contacts” link at the bottom of the webpage.