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Brigadier General William T. Wolf
Director of Army Safety & Commanding General
U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center
The U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, headquartered in Fort Rucker, AL, collects, analyzes and communicates risk management programs, information and tools to assist leaders, Soldiers, families and civilians in preserving and protecting our Army's resources. The Center has 193 employees.
Why is safety a core value in the Army?
With all the complexities of military life, safety simply has to be a core value in today's Army – we could not complete our missions and protect our nation without it. Serving in our nation’s Army is an inherently risky occupation, regardless of a Soldier's job. We are in the midst of the longest continuous conflict in our national history, and keeping our Soldiers safe in all they do must be part of our culture to be successful. Compounding occupational risks are the everyday hazards Soldiers face off the job while enjoying leisure activities such as boating and hunting, but their riskiest activity by far is driving a privately owned motor vehicle. Our biggest challenges stem from these off-duty activities and are a focus for leaders across our Army.
How do you instill a sense of safety in your Soldiers, families and civilians on an ongoing basis?
We have learned the key to Soldier safety is engagement by three crucial groups – leaders, fellow Soldiers and family members – all working together to create a safety culture. On and off the job, leaders can have a great impact on their Soldiers by correcting unsafe behavior and taking a personal interest in each Soldier’s life. Fellow Soldiers often are critical in helping their "battle buddies" make the right decisions whether on or off duty. Family members are the final and perhaps most important safety enablers of the three groups, as they have unparalleled leverage and influence over their Soldiers at home.
What is the biggest obstacle to safety in the Army, and how do you work to overcome it?
In terms of manpower, the Army’s three uniformed components (active duty, National Guard and Reserve) and civilian workforce total approximately 1.4 million employees. The sheer size of the force, dispersed around the world, all complicate the implementation and enforcement of a comprehensive safety program. While we have regulations that establish guidelines and standards every leader and Soldier must follow, it is up to commanders at all levels to expand these policies into safety programs that meet their Soldiers’ needs. Engaged leaders, coupled with Soldiers looking out for each other and families involved in helping their loved ones, are key to instilling a safety culture across our entire Army.
What are the benefits to enforcing safety across the Army?
In our Army, safety is not about a dollar figure or increased productivity – rather, it is about our people. Our bottom line is ensuring every Soldier within our formations is there every day, safe, strong and ready to execute the mission. The American people have entrusted us to protect their sons and daughters, and that is a responsibility all of our leaders take very seriously. Military service is a deeply personal and selfless commitment, and taking care of one another is a guiding principle in everything we do. In the end, Army safety pays by keeping our most precious resource – our Soldiers – part of our Army, their families and our nation.
How do you measure safety? What are the leading indicators that show you how safe the Army is, and where do you see room for improvement?
Anyone in the Army safety community will tell you it is extremely difficult to measure the effectiveness of our programs because our accident data does not reveal how many lives were saved during a given period of time, only how many were lost. Historically speaking, however, our Army is safer now than it has been at any time in the past 30-plus years. Presently, our biggest challenge remains keeping Soldiers safe after duty hours, particularly on the road. During our most recent fiscal year, we lost 116 Soldiers to privately owned motor vehicle accidents. This area traditionally has been our Army's most urgent safety issue, and although numbers are showing some improvement, we still have a long way to go.
How important is off-the-job safety to the Army's overall safety program? What types of off-the-job safety programs does the Army offer to employees?
Off-the-job safety is absolutely critical to our Army's overall safety program. Off-duty vehicle and motorcycle accidents account for the vast majority of accidental Soldier deaths each year. This fact is especially sobering if you think about what our Soldiers do at work, from mastering high-powered weapons to operating massive vehicles to flying aircraft in nearly every environmental condition imaginable, both at home and in combat theaters. Soldiers must apply that same on-duty awareness and sense of urgency to their off-duty activities "beyond the battlefield." Yet, in many instances, this just is not happening, and far too many good men and women have been lost because of a moment's inattention or recklessness.
We are constantly looking for new ways to reach our Soldiers through programs, products and tools. Some of our most successful off-duty initiatives include the Motorcycle Mentorship Program, which pairs novice and experienced riders within the same unit to foster a positive, safe riding environment; the Family Engagement Kit, which highlights some of the most common safety issues faced by Soldiers and offers helpful resources for families; comprehensive "toolboxes" covering both on- and off-duty safety topics; and various annual media campaigns. As valuable as these programs are, however, they are merely tools without the buy-in and engagement of all of our leaders, Soldiers and family members.