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Spring 2008 Wingman Day Allows Unit Members to Voice Concerns

BARNES AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Massachusetts -- On what proved to be a stormy Monday morning on June 16, the safety staff under the direction of Brig. Gen. Rice, hosted another successful day for unit members to focus on the safety issues affecting the wing and its personnel. The attendance totaled over 255 unit members for what has been called a chance for the safety staff to not only speak about safety issues affecting the wing, but once again provide the information in a somewhat entertaining way which most seem to enjoy .

Just so everyone is on the same page, the safety staff would like to make sure the message for those in attendance was properly received. The goal of Wingman Day is to help promote safety as a culture in the Wing and is the reason for holding days such as these. In a nutshell this is a day where we take time to reflect on the things we are doing right and at the same time try to identify those areas we need to improve on to make us a better and safer wing.

This year the safety staff focused its efforts on what they felt were the top five safety issues affecting the wing. They additionally provided unit members with the time and tools for each person to actively participate in helping the leadership understand what each unit member felt were the top five safety concerns facing and the Wing. The safety staff also invited a guest speaker from the local Veterans Administration (VA) to inform unit personnel on what if any services are available to them from the VA and to speak with them about stress. Each of these proved to be very successful in assisting unit members and our safety efforts. Several in attendance asked about and were going to take advantage of some of the free services such as counseling and financial advisement. Anyone wishing to find out additional information can contact the VA directly or by using our speakers information listed below. We were told that there would be help available to them and their families.

The day not only provided those who attended with the chance to participate, it allowed people to have their voices heard. Last but not least, it provided each unit member with information on what if any help is available for them and their families from the VA. The safety staff hopes that the information provided was a help to everyone not only here at work but for them at home as well. Too often, we seem to place safety as an additional task instead of part of the task itself. This allows the gremlins of fate to take over the outcome of what ever it is we are doing which ultimately leads to a mishap. We truly hope that by keeping the information flow open we can make this a better and safer wing.

The top five safety concerns that the Wing Safety Staff thought was relevant to the wing and it's mission were as follows.

Safety Culture- The safety staff felt that the wing needed more proactive instead of reactive approach to safety throughout the wing. This means identifying those things that will hurt us or damage something and control the risk before we begin what ever it is we are doing. The bottom line is to take what ever steps are necessary or required to make sure our people go home the same way they came to work and that the equipment we begin the day with is in the same or better shape than when we started to day.

Change- Not only aircraft but in our leadership change is everywhere. Everyone is busy doing a lot of things out there but is anyone steering the ship to make sure it travels in the right direction? They felt that leadership needed to make sure supervisors at all levels were empowered to ensure personnel are receiving all of the resources they require to get the job done, SAFELY!

Training and experience- The focus here is to effectively use the experience that is out there and yet at the same time have personnel know their limitations. An example of this is an A10 mechanic might know what is and is not an acceptable fluid leak on an A10 but the question is it the same on the F15? Without the hours and hands on work on this new aircraft it is hard to know what is and is not acceptable.

Stress- The safety staff felt strongly that everyone's stress levels were truly being challenged. Not only do we have new aircraft, tools, training mandates, budget shortfalls, and a mission to get accomplished, they also have multiple financial burdens at home as well. The cost of energy has really hit home to many of our families, and this stress of finding ways to fill our tanks with gas and fill our winter oil barrels distracts each of us.

Off duty safety- The safety staff felt that off duty safety was something that if not attended to will cause us troubles in the future. They felt items' affecting the safety of our personnel and their families during off duty activities was in need of some attention from leadership and supervision.

These were the top five safety concerns of the safety staff and were for the most part on the money in regards to what unit members felt were in need of attention but each of the groups had their particular concerns they felt were important to them and the wing. These concerns were as follows.

The Mission Support Group (MSG) and Medical Group (MDG) felt that the following were the top five safety concerns. 

Traffic and Pedestrian Safety- Items such as speeding on base, cell phone use while driving, using parking lots as a cut-through, and designating a route and posting signs for PT activities would help reduce risk.

Alcohol Responsibility- They felt that Wing personnel needed to take better care of each other using the buddy rule. They also felt that the clubs need to do a better job ensuring our people do not depart their facilities in an unsafe fashion and the purchase of a breathalyzer or the throw away testers might be a big benefit.

Fitness- The felt that PT activities on base were in need of attention. They were concerned about PT related injuries and one of the items addressed was the purchase and installation of an AED device in the base gym might save a life.

Firing Range- The MSG and medical Group felt that the closing in of the base firing range to prevent unauthorized entry needed to be funded to eliminate this hazard.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Emphasis- They felt that items such as lack of 1st aid kits and supplies to fill them in areas throughout the base, the lack of proper protective toed boots and other items for DEPEX workers, the lack of safety training at the shop level on items such as lifting safety required attention to better our efforts.

The Operations Group (OG) had the following safety concerns for they felt were in need of attention.

Training- An example of this is their current operations on Bravo Taxiway and the need for wing walkers and heightened awareness.

Traffic Safety- Their Concern here was flightline driving and the poor visibility and maneuverability of certain assigned flightline operation vehicles.

Stress- Flightline driving in and around construction poses certain airman with large amounts of stress and a schedule or other drivers to share the duties would be a great help.

Stress- Trailer life- Noise in and around the operations desk during flying operations on a daily basis. This along with weak radios will need to be worked so we can limit the stress that can potentially affect our operations.

Stress- Additional Duties- Additional duties have approached an overwhelming level with most personnel having at least three additional duties. There are also numerous control grade issues where the grade does not fit the responsibility.

The Maintenance Group (MXG) which had to take an additional days of brainstorming due to the sever weather which required them to depart the briefings early to ensure our aircraft were under cover. Their ideas and concerns are listed below.

Lack of basic maintenance 101 procedures- Items such as housekeeping, complacency in using technical data, training documentation, basic MX documentation, and the proper selection and use of PPE were at the forefront of their concerns. This means we need to do it slow, safe, and by the book!

Desired production exceeds (real or perceived) training, Experience, and manpower. Basically stated is to produce sorties at a rate that exceeds experience levels with a new jet when we do not fully understand how to do it!

Stress and distractions- Supervisors at all levels consistently direct work that is not able to be completed without interruption or distractions. It makes it hard to go step by step and follow the book when you are constantly interrupted.

Construction and associated temporary placements- this displacement during facility upgrades causes a large amount of stress to maintainers trying to fix jets and keep up with day to day operations or responsibilities.

Lack of resources- There is a constant battle to get required manpower, funding, and equipment,. An example of this is the BRAC finplan not taking into account taxiway Bravo operations for items such as a shelter, portapoties, and other requirements.

As I hope everyone can see by this article there are a lot of things going on and many concerns out there in regards to safety. The one thing we did not want to do with this day was limit its effectiveness to identify areas of concern. To accomplish this we did not want to try to solve all the problems out there but rather suggest some ways to look at making them more manageable. I also want to entertain the idea to each unit member that when ever you have a lot of things going on such as what was identified during this Wingman Day, the risks to our people, our equipment, and our mission increases. The focus cannot be on fixing all of these things tomorrow. The focus needs to be on fixing the items which require our attention immediately in order to preserve our most critical assets, our people and equipment. Each of the unit commanders along with your senior staff and chiefs has been tasked by General Rice to fix the things we can now and at the same time devise a plan on how we can attain solutions for the remainder concerns and execute it so we are on track to remedy each of them.

All of the involvement and feedback we have heard in regards to the day has been positive. In General Rice's words "The people were pleased". They were pleased to be able to be involved in the process and to help provide their commanders with not only problems but ideas for solutions as well. He also wanted to convey to everyone that a process such as this Wingman Day truly demonstrates that each and everyone of us is important no matter what it is you do. From the young airman tasked with sweeping the floor in the break room before departing drill, to the commander making the hard calls, each of us has an important job and a responsibility to ensure safe operations. In many cases it is the job that appears to be not hazardous that can contribute to increased stress levels which can easily lead to a mishap due to fatigue and distraction. Something as easy as a bad batch of coffee or the pay problem that seems to take forever to get resolved all add to stress. This at times can become dangerous if it is allowed to cloud our thoughts.

For those who were not able to make it and for those who were there and wanted to take advantage of the VA's offer for help safety and Family Support would like to provide you with the name and phone number of our invited VA guest. He is available or can assist you in attaining help on items such as stress, fell free to give him a call. He will try his best to assist you in your needs. Mr. Ted Olenjnik, Northampton Veterans Medical Center, 421N Main Street, Leeds, MA 01053, (413)584-4040 X-2112.

On behalf of the entire safety staff I thank each of you for your help, efforts and continued participation in the Commander's Safety Programs. Without each of you involved, we would not be where we are today. Thank You!