Safety Office here to serve the community

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Paul Contoveros
  • 21st Space Wing Safety Office

When I was first notified of my assignment as the chief of safety for the 21st Space Wing, I’ll admit, I had some mixed feelings. Coming from the Pentagon, I was excited to get back to the Wing, especially the premier wing in AFSPC. But honestly, I had no idea what a chief of safety’s job was. And worse, I had no real understanding of what the Safety Office provides to the fight. I figured reflective belts, hard hats, green vests and clip boards would be involved. I also assumed my job was to be a wet blanket, going around to work centers saying “no, you can’t do that” and “unplug that” and “for goodness sake, put that down”. In short, I was pretty sure my role as a parent would now directly correlate to my role at work. But now that I’ve been in the position for almost a year, I realize just how wrong I was. The Safety Office is here to serve the community and brings to the table a wealth of experience and information to help you make informed risk management decisions. Unfortunately, if you’re anything like I was, you’re not really sure just what that involves. So, let’s clear it up, shall we?


First and foremost, it’s important to realize that your Safety Team is an exceptionally highly trained and dedicated group of individuals. People don’t just end up in the career field--they must volunteer. And once they do, there’s no guarantee they’ll be accepted into the safety community. Candidates must first be vetted during a pre-training internship with a Wing Safety office and must gain the endorsement of the resident chief of safety prior to entering training. Upon successful completion of the internship, the candidate must then graduate from a demanding technical school which covers not just Air Force guidance, but DoD and Federal guidance as well. As a result, your safety professionals are dedicated, trained, and knowledgeable. As if that foundation wasn’t enough, these experts are further trained and experienced in Occupational, Flight, Weapons and/or Space safety disciplines.


Your Occupational Safety Team, led by Luis “Lucky” Harris and Master Sgt. John Skelton, also includes Tech. Sgt. Wade Woods and Bob Brock; combined, they bring 68 years of experience to the table. Facility inspections, risk assessment codes, dig permits, personnel mishaps, on the job accidents and a host of other related actions all fall within their job jar. Their primary function, like all safety disciplines, is mishap prevention. Exhaustive after action reviews, investigations and reports are their bread and butter. If there’s a lesson learned to be captured, they’ll document it and put procedures in place to prevent it from happening again. These are the professionals you’re most likely familiar with. But what about the other disciplines?


Flight Safety is led by Darron Haughn. I admit, this is the discipline with which I was least familiar, but now is one for which I have great appreciation. One of the key programs run by flight safety is the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) program. Working hand in hand with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Haughn has in place a program which mitigates the omnipresent risk of aircraft bird strikes not just for Peterson, but for the City of Colorado Springs Airport as well. In itself, it could be a full time job, but he also performs accident investigations and provides support to our mission partners (NORAD/USNORTHCOM, 302nd Airlift Wing, Schriever AFB, USAFA, the City of Colorado Springs, et al.). A prior C-130 pilot with 1200 flight hours, chief of safety training, and 20 years of experience, he knows the flight line like the back of his hand.


Weapons Safety is led by Larry Lewis. Lewis has 30 years of experience and is an unparalleled expert in explosive munitions. He oversees ammunition transfers from Ft. Carson, understands the nuances of establishing National Defense Areas, performs weapons safety area inspections, and even keeps watch over events such as the NORAD/USNORTHCOM change of command cannonade. His expertise has guaranteed that we haven’t had a weapons safety violation in the three years he’s been here. If you’ve got a weapons safety issue or concern, you couldn’t be in better hands.


Finally, Space Safety is led by our newest member, Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Price. Price recently arrived from 4th Space Control Squadron, widely regarded as one of the top tier operational space units, and he’s hit the ground running. With responsibility over our Ground Based Radar, Space Surveillance and Space Control missions, his focus is on mission impacting hardware failures. But he also will provide oversight of software testing to ensure our primary mission is always in the best position to dominate the high ground. If you are a 1C6 or 13S and don’t understand the role of Space Safety, let him enlighten you!


So, with all of the above in mind, I hope that when you see an occasional reflective belt, vest, hardhat or clip board around base, you now understand that Safety is a mission enabler rather than a mission road block. Our office stands by to help support you and your mission by pointing out areas of risk, providing ways of assuaging that risk, and capturing lessons learned when existing Risk Management guidance isn’t enough.