Safety Hits Home
E Company, 1-183rd Aviation Battalion
Idaho Army National Guard
Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho
As a new recruit straight out of Advanced Individual Training, safety was not first and foremost on my mind. I joined the Army later in life, having toiled in the civilian workforce for 10 years prior to enlisting. I worked in construction, walking walls, hanging trusses, and sheeting and shingling roofs — all without wearing fall protection or other personal protective equipment (PPE). Safety glasses and hearing protection were not provided to us. All I knew was the job needed to get done and safety culture was not instilled in the employees. The company’s attitude was, “You get paid a lot. If you don’t do the job, someone else will.”
As I transferred out of the civilian workforce and transitioned into my military career, I understood how to keep myself safe, but written safety and safety theory were not even on my radar. It wasn’t until I arrived at my first unit that I was properly introduced to the safety world. I quickly learned that everything in Army aviation involves safety. I was also introduced to the dreaded safety briefs for various tasks. Still, none of it really hit home until I attended my first hot refuel training.
We were operating a 24-hour forward arming and refueling point and had helicopters flying in for fuel at all times of the day. The landing pads were marked to ensure the pilots set down their aircraft at the appropriate locations to receive fuel and to delineate safe walking areas. One of the areas designated as a no-walk zone was the tail rotor box, which was marked with cross hatches on the concrete, much like a “do not park” area in a parking lot. The problem with the tail rotor box was helicopters move and may not always be aligned perfectly within the confines of the markings. Therefore, it was necessary to keep your head on a swivel at all times.
During a nighttime training event, I was the Soldier hooking up the fuel nozzle to an AH-64 Apache. My buddy, who we’ll call Pvt. Smith, was behind me, operating the fire extinguisher. After refueling the helicopter, we pulled the hose back to its storage area and started walking off the flight line. Smith was watching the lines on the concrete and not paying attention to where the aircraft was located. I noticed he was concentrating on walking along the designated lines and heading straight for the Apache’s tail rotor. I tried to yell at him, but between the noise produced by the helicopters and the PPE we were wearing, he couldn’t hear me. I ran straight toward him and half-grabbed, half-tackled him out of his walking path and into safety. I pointed at the nearly invisible tail rotor. Smith nodded, thanked me and we walked off the flight line, forgetting about the close call.
Apparently, my actions didn’t go unnoticed. The range safety saw what happened and told my platoon leader. A few days later, he pulled me aside and thanked me for what I did and presented me with a safety award — a nice little pocket knife. It wasn’t until I had the knife in my hand that I understood that my actions potentially saved Smith’s life.
As Soldiers, our jobs are inherently dangerous. One moment of inattention can have deadly consequences. Thanks to my unit’s commitment to safety, I had the training and situational awareness to recognize my buddy was in danger. Other units must ensure they provide their Soldiers with the tools to help complete the Army mission safely and successfully.