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What Role Does the 628th Air Base Wing Safety Office Play at Joint Base Charleston, SC?

By MR. CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON, 628 ABW Director of Safety

What is Joint Base Charleston, what is its mission, and what role does the 628th Air Base Wing Safety Office (628 ABW/SE) play on the installation? These are a few of the many questions I asked myself eight years ago upon arrival at JB Charleston, and this article provides a glimpse into our joint base environment. JB Charleston is a non-traditional military installation composed of dedicated active duty and civilian employees from all military departments. It was created as a requirement of a Congressionally mandated Base Realignment and Closure Act. We have a myriad of missions at JB Charleston, and the Air Force was designated as the lead military department and supporting unit on the installation. The Air Force is responsible for a whole host of support requirements (security, fire, facilities maintenance, safety, etc.) for our supported and tenant units.

The Air Force still operates the mighty C-17s with liberty from JB Charleston, commanded by the 437 AW. The 628 ABW happens to be the number one DoD JB Supporting Unit, and the 437 AW happens to be the number one Airlift Wing in the Air Force—just ask the historian! Our joint safety team at JB Charleston supports a variety of local, national, and global operations involving aircraft, ships, submarines, rail, and over the road shipments. Our safety team’s primary mission is to preserve these combat capabilities and protect life by implementing mishap prevention programs. In a nutshell, JB Charleston is a transportation hub, including air, sea, and land movements we have coined locally as the “mobility triad.” When called upon, our JB Charleston team can support military operations anywhere in the world, proudly!

Of the three separate geographic installation locations comprising JB Charleston, we have safety offices on Naval Weapons Station (NWS) Charleston and Charleston Air Force Base, which continually support the JB operations in one form or another. The North Auxiliary Airfield (NAAF) rounds out the third installation location.

Our key safety team is composed of our primary Environmental Safety and Occupational Health Council (ESOHC) members which include, but are not limited to: 628 ABW, 437 AW, 315 AW, Naval Munitions Command (NMC) Charleston, Naval Nuclear Power Training Command (NNPTC), Naval Information Warfare Center – Atlantic (SPAWAR), Army Field Support Battalion (AFSB), Naval Consolidated Brig (NAVCONBRIG), Naval Health Clinic (NHCC), and Naval Nuclear Power Unit (NNPU). The 628 ABW/SE is charged with overseeing the ESOHC and installation-wide safety program requirements, which enables compliance by implementing regulatory requirements and filling safety program gaps via support agreements with the mission partners and tenant units. The 628 ABW/SE can be thought of as the mayor of safety for the installation with several constituents we support; all facilities and real property fall under our Wing’s ownership. The 628 ABW/SE support is governed by Department of Defense, Air Force, and Naval instructions or other applicable regulations.

In many cases, JB Charleston units work together as a team and define what standards will be followed at the local level—it is not always clear which guidelines apply to situations involving joint operations with planes, trains, submarines, and ships. The one certainty at JB Charleston is that because change is inevitable, there will always be a never-ending, daily risk assessment process. On any given day, the 628 ABW/SE explosive safety staff could be calculating explosive arc risks from a Naval ship; the 437 AW/SE flight safety officers could be assessing hazards of Army helicopters exercising operations on the installation; and the 628 ABW/SE occupational safety staff could be assessing risks of a non-routine confined space entry by one of our mission partners.

JB Charleston has had its ups and downs over the past eight years. In recent years, the 437 AW/SE and 628 ABW/SE worked as a team to build two separate Class A interim safety investigation boards—one involving an F-16 mid-air collision with a civilian aircraft about 10 miles from the installation, and the other involving a C-130 crash in Savannah, Georgia. The support personnel from JB Charleston who arrived at each of these mishap scenes did a fantastic job of supporting recovery on board these aircraft and laid the groundwork for determining the root cause of the mishaps. Thinking about these tragic events, I recall flight safety officers briefing the initial cadre and the response personnel—mostly young and eager to assist and make a difference—before they headed out to the C-130 crash site. That very moment, I realized they would accomplish tasks that would be etched in their memories forever.

EXPLOSIVE SAFETY

The 628 ABW Explosive Safety Office (SEW), a leader in JB Charleston explosive safety oversight and support, coordinates with mission partners to balance requirements with safety standards and the related risk assessments. The 628 ABW/SEW conducts and assists with completing explosive risk assessments continuously to ensure mitigating actions and compensatory measures are in place while minimizing hazards to personnel and property. One example of how it was determined and which regulatory instructions and guidelines were used amongst the military departments at JB Charleston is shown in regard to the current AF-approved controlled burn deviation. A comprehensive risk assessment was performed with mission partners, and a safe $70,000 per year mowing and controlled burn maintenance option was chosen, saving the AF $2 million up front and $140,000 per year in mowing costs.

In the eight years I have been working at JB Charleston, the 628 ABW/SE has written and coordinated on over 200 approved DoD Explosive Safety Board site plans (the most in AMC). The 628 ABW/SEW supports JB Charleston and NWS Charleston wharf and pier operations which enable real-world contingencies with mission partners. The 628 ABW/SEW works closely with NMC Charleston and Army Surface Deployment and Distribution Command’s diverse rail, ship, and truck explosive handling and storage operations. One of our most recent accomplishments was assisting with approval for the U.S. Coast Guard to begin upload and download operations with one of its combatant ships at JB Charleston. As you can see, the 628 ABW/SEW has a lot going on, yet we strive to attain the goal of zero explosive safety mishaps on JB Charleston.

OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY

The 628 ABW Occupational Safety Office (SEG) encompasses a broad spectrum of safety disciplines and shoulders many responsibilities with our mission partners. The safety specialists in this office employ a holistic approach to the multifaceted mission governing land, air, and sea by ensuring the safety of members in and out of uniform. The entire 628 ABW/SE office has been working towards a common goal of garnering our Certified Safety and Health Official (CSHO) Certificate from Texas A&M University. The elemental breakdown of the 628 ABW/SEG programmatic responsibilities range from mishap investigations, occupational safety inspections, education, and training to motorcycle and traffic safety and risk management. Proactive, instead of traditional reactive, safety applications lead the forefront of JB Charleston’s occupational safety operations. Assigned unit safety representatives understand and utilize their local safety office’s open-door policy to ascertain the governing laws and regulations dictating their duties. The vast experience supplied by safety specialists utilize a different approach to overall safety implementation, providing varied insights into today’s Air Force culture.

CLOSING

There is a green doormat with a worn white safety cross, purchased about 20 years ago for the base of a stairwell at the Wing HQ building. Now barely legible, it used to say “Safety Starts Here.” Looking at it, I began pondering all that has transpired in the past 20 years, and I think it is safe to say many AMC leaders (including a few AMC/CCs) have stepped on this mat. If that mat could talk, it would say our Command has done a great job guiding our safety programs over the years and many good decisions to push the ball forward have been made by those who have stepped over it. A great safety culture takes time to flourish and many have contributed to the success we have seen in AMC. It is time to buy a new mat and I suspect the next one will not make it 20 years, but I hope the lessons taught by those stepping over it will!