News: Senior NCO promotes safety mindset
Each year, the U.S. Air Force's annual "101 Critical Days of Summer" safety campaign commences with Memorial Day weekend and concludes after the Labor Day holiday. This time is intended as a period of increased awareness during the summer season when higher rates of off-duty accidents and fatalities historically occur.
While the number of accidents here in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility does not necessarily increase during the summer months as they typically do at home station locations, a good safety program and manager are key to accident prevention.
Master Sgt. Heath Benton, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing ground safety manager, ensures all aspects of the base's safety program are taken care of.
"I am responsible for all safety programs for the base," said Benton, a Santa Fe, Fla. native. "I oversee safety investigations, the confined-space program, lockout/tagout program, safety campaigns, trend analysis, inspections and spot inspections."
The senior NCO was stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. before he arrived here in November for a one-year tour. Sergeant Benton has a follow-on assignment to Malmstrom AFB, Mont. He said he is excited about the opportunity to fill his current position.
"Being here on 'The Rock' gives me the opportunity to be the ground safety manager, whereas most GSMs are civilians at stateside bases," said Benton, a 14-year Air Force veteran. "I get the opportunity here to participate in all levels of safety. At a normal base you are given one, maybe two programs to run."
While he's had two previous deployments in the AFCENT AOR, this is his first rotation since joining the safety career field. He said he likes the job because of the level of involvement it requires across the wing.
"I don't mind deploying," he said. "It is a way to learn about your job in a new environment and you will always come across situations you never faced before. I get involved in almost everything that happens on base in one way or another."
The 1995 graduate of Union County High School in Lake Butler, Fla. said there is no such thing as a typical day in the AOR; he just takes each day one at a time and tries to make things better here than he found them.
"My days are never really the same," said Benton. "It depends on what I have scheduled for the week. I may do an annual inspection one day and walk around and do spot inspections the next."
The safety professional said his job is critical to the 386th AEW's mission and most importantly, he helps protect Airmen and equipment.
"Being in a deployed location, my job helps to eliminate any unnecessary hazards," he said. "The safety office has the opportunity to get out around base and identify potential hazards. We can go to a work center and put fresh eyes on the environment and locate hazards."
"I like getting out and meeting new people and this job allows me to do that," said Benton. "I have met a lot of hardworking individuals during my time here."
While he enjoys most aspects of his job, Benton said there are plenty of challenges to go along with it, such as changing mindsets and attitudes. But, he also knows what qualities it takes to be successful in the safety career field.
"The most challenging aspect of my job is getting people to 'think safety'; I hear all the time 'I have done it this way for years'," he said. "This career field requires you to be a self motivator. If you cannot manage your time well you will get behind. You have to constantly keep up on regulations in your [Air Force Specialty Code] and the [Air Force Instructions] in other career fields on base."
Currently half way through his short tour assignment, Benton offered some words of advice to those Airmen who are just beginning their deployment here.
"For those just arriving on 'The Rock', acclimate yourself to the environment; don't try to push yourself too quickly," he advised. "Your job will get done, so take your time and do it correctly. For those who are setting a goal to get in shape while they are here, start slow and work toward your goal over the duration of your deployment. Don't try to do it all in the first month."
Throughout June, a number of Marauders will redeploy and return to family, friends and home station life. The ground safety manager encouraged caution, personal restraint and the use of operational risk management principles for those soon to redeploy and to practice after they get home.
"For those soon rotating, finish up right," he said. "Don't get complacent at work while thinking about home. Once you arrive home, readjust to the environment. Check your vehicle to make sure it's safe to operate if it has not been driven since you deployed. Also, don't try to consume all the alcohol you missed all at once. You have not had it for a while and your tolerance level has lowered."