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How to establish an expeditionary ground safety office

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Staff Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton)

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Staff Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton)

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Two months into my deployment at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing I received orders to forward deploy to an undisclosed location. I was told to pack only the necessary uniform items, toiletries and report to public health for out processing. The information provided was a minimum to say the least, but at least I would be doing my job ... I established a new ground safety office.

So with my chemical gear and personal items packed, I departed seven days later. This excursion taught me a lot about what resiliency truly means as part of the Air Force readiness requirements and I'd like to share the things that helped me, the involvement of identifying and mitigating hazards and some final thoughts.

Before departing the 379th AEW, I spoke with my safety mentor, Senior Master Sgt. Joshua Franklin, who told me what my main focus should be. Our goal was to be visible and establish a safety culture in a bare base environment, as well as be available to the warriors on the ground. Franklin is the Air Forces Central functional manager at the Combined Air Operations Center here deployed from Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, Alaska.

Armed with a CD brimming with all the files, documents and technical orders I needed created by the 379th AEW Ground Safety Office, I thought I was ready to go. But after a conversation with another mentor of mine, Senior Master Sgt. Theresa Lex, who is our functional manager stationed at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., provided me with the references that kept me from going insane

Then I was ready and arrived at my new home for the next few months on June 24 with a machine in motion. Meaning, imagine if you will, you are driving a car in need of repair and you can't stop. I needed to get plugged in fast. It is critical to remember as a safety professional, we advise and recommend. In the situation, where I was, there were multiple hazards and the commander on the ground was well aware of them. Partnering with the fire department and civil engineers, we helped identify and mitigate hazards.

When I first arrived, I collected all data associated with hazards, and then the commander asked to put it all on paper. When it came to identifying and mitigating hazards my expectation level became: "expect the unexpected." Reminiscing, I recounted the importance of partnerships and getting involved with all base operations. If there's one thing I took away from this experience, it's to not just stand aside and point out the things wrong. Engage and help build while selling the safety culture. The statement "be flexible" should be all safety professionals' mantra when deployed.

Contingency base operation is what I'd like to call, "controlled chaos." The number one issue on the ground was electrical hazards. The keys to contingency base operations are flexibility and simplicity, meaning, did not get wrapped around the axel. Make note of all hazards and report them to your base chain of command. Most importantly, know who your leadership is as they rely on the safety professional to identify, advise and report.

Because of the incredible advice and guidance from my mentors as well as the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing and the 379th AEW, I was able to succeed in building a safety office from the ground up and I can't thank them enough for all of their support. Remember: "Mission First, Safety Always!"

[Editor's note: Asdel is deployed from the 81st Training Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and is an Enterprise, Ala., native.]