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Three Days of Learning and Inspiration at AMC’S SAFETY CONFERENCE 2018

Story and Photos by MS. KIM KNIGHT, Staff Writer

On September 11, 2018, safety professionals from around the world assembled for the Air Mobility Command Safety Conference held in Fairview Heights, Illinois. Throughout the first day, those in attendance paid solemn tribute to the 17th anniversary of the national tragedy, which serves as a reminder of the importance of our steadfast dedication to upholding our nation’s security and safety.

This three-day event was packed with informative sessions on a well-devised, wide range of topics for the various safety divisions—occupational, flight, and weapons. AMC safety staff reached out to several agencies and noteworthy speakers for a diversity of themes, including cutting-edge initiatives and innovations, education, leadership perspectives, Safety Investigation Boards, and safety cross-tell.

Air Force Chief of Safety and Commander of the Air Force Safety Center Maj Gen John Rauch kicked off the conference by discussing Air Force-wide safety strengths and weaknesses. He talked candidly about the root issues behind sound risk management, saying often those making decisions involving mishaps are inexperienced.

Airmen have much to look forward to in the near future—mission planning improvements, software upgrades, removal of some additional duties, and improvements for direct hiring so there is no lapse in personnel. Publication fatigue is being addressed, numerous Air Force Instructions have been pulled, and publications will be moving to electronic format.

Maj Gen Samuel “Bo” Mahaney the current Chief of Staff, Air Mobility Command, Scott AFB, Illinois, stressed good communication, saying feedback is important and information flows both ways.

“Airmen … should provide useful feedback, so changes can be implemented,” he said.

Brig Gen John Lamontagne, the Commander of the 618th Air Operations Center (AOC) at Scott AFB, talked about rebranding the AOC and reflected on his assessment of the Air Force over the last three decades by comparing it to a three-legged stool.

“The legs are mission, readiness, and squadron vitality,” he said. “We have prioritized mission in the past and are shoring up the other two now.” He also reassured attendees that every commander has his complete support for safety of flight calls. If Airmen get pushback, he said it is important to stand firm for the lives at stake.

In 2015, while aboard a British helicopter en route from the Kabul International Airport to the NATO headquarters, Col Laurel “Buff” Burkel endured what no one wishes—a crash that resulted in five fatalities. Once out of the twisted wreckage, her serious injuries were not visibly apparent. However, first responders stabilized her and she was later treated for a broken neck. She spoke of the causes and findings of the safety investigation that followed. Burkel returned to work only 11 months after the crash and is back on flight status. Her story is one of perseverance and personal strength on the road to full recovery.

Col Leslie Maher of the 375 AMW/CC reflected on what she called the most gratifying, yet challenging work of her more than 30 years in the Air Force—a deployed contingency operation in Haiti. In the wake of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Maher led the 621st Contingency Response Group as it brought much-needed food and medical care to the hard-hit Haitians. Functioning from an overcrowded international airport to disperse goods and equipment across unsound infrastructure was not an easy task, but the team accomplished the mission in 18 days.

Lt Col Bridgette Kennedy, Safety Investigation Board President, discussed a large-scale, Class A occupational investigation and the difficulties and challenges experienced from start to finish. She stressed that one of the keys to a successful operation is to remember that the team is not functioning alone. Her team prevailed through determination and by reaching out to all those in AMC’s Safety directorate who helped by providing direction and support throughout the investigation.

Mr. Brian Udell, former Air Force Captain and F-15E fighter pilot, shared his incredible story. He was one of a few individuals to survive ejection at 780 miles per hour. He was stranded in the Atlantic Ocean, his body so extremely injured that he could only partially use one arm. He had no life preserver in the 60-degree water in the pitch black of night. Fighting against the odds, he used his training and willpower to survive four hours before the Coast Guard helicopter rescue.

The 2018 AMC Safety Conference leveraged innovation, leadership, and cross-tell, resulting in an invaluable experience for safety professionals across the Air Force. As we look ahead, let AMC Safety know about speakers, instructors, and topics that would be meaningful to you at future conferences. AMC strives to keep safety interesting, relevant, and an integral part of everyday Air Force culture.