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AFSOC scores safety trifecta

Special operations forces practice fast roping from an MH-53 Pave Low of the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field Fla. Air Force Special Operations Command dominated the 2006 Air Force safety award program, garnering the service's top awards for best major command safety record, most effective MAJCOM-level flight safety program, and best ground safety program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Chief Master Sgt. Gary Emery)

Special operations forces practice fast roping from an MH-53 Pave Low of the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field Fla. Air Force Special Operations Command dominated the 2006 Air Force safety award program, garnering the service's top awards for best major command safety record, most effective MAJCOM-level flight safety program, and best ground safety program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Chief Master Sgt. Gary Emery)

Staff Sgt. Nathan Roden inspects the propeller on an MC-130H Combat Talon II of the 15th Special Operations Squadron March 26 at Hurlburt Field, Fla. Air Force Special Operations Command dominated the 2006 Air Force safety award program, garnering the service's top awards for best major command safety record, most effective MAJCOM-level flight safety program, and best ground safety program. Sergeant Roden is a jet engine mechanic with the 1st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Chief Master Sgt. Gary Emery)

Staff Sgt. Nathan Roden inspects the propeller on an MC-130H Combat Talon II of the 15th Special Operations Squadron March 26 at Hurlburt Field, Fla. Air Force Special Operations Command dominated the 2006 Air Force safety award program, garnering the service's top awards for best major command safety record, most effective MAJCOM-level flight safety program, and best ground safety program. Sergeant Roden is a jet engine mechanic with the 1st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Chief Master Sgt. Gary Emery)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Safety officials at Air Force Special Operations Command have a pleasant problem: finding room for more trophies in the display case.

AFSOC dominated the 2006 Air Force safety award program, garnering the service's top awards for best major command safety record, most effective MAJCOM-level flight safety program, and best ground safety program.

In addition, the 353rd Special Operations Group at Kadena Air Base, Japan, received an outstanding achievement award for ground safety.

The awards marked a remarkable turnaround for a command that at one point was reeling from the effects of a dismal flight safety record, said Col. Richard McNabb, the AFSOC director of safety.

In 2005, the command suffered six Class A mishaps -- accidents that cause loss of life, injury resulting in permanent total disability, destruction of an aircraft and/or property damage or loss exceeding $1 million. AFSOC had no Class A mishaps in 2006. The about-face was a team effort that began at the top, the colonel said.

"We went from worst to first in Air Force flight safety for one reason: leadership," he said. "(Lt. Gen. Michael W. Wooley, AFSOC commander) led the charge, but it was leadership all the way down -- through the wing, groups, squadrons, all the way to the first-line supervisors -- that turned the trend around," he said.

Any break in that leadership chain could have spelled disaster, especially given the conditions under which AFSOC Airmen operate, Colonel McNabb said. "On a day-to-day basis, we train and operate in a higher-risk environment than the Air Force in general. We fly at low level, we fly at night and we fly in all weather conditions," the colonel said.

"Our battlefield Airmen and weapons systems are typically closer to the threat than the 'big blue' Air Force," he said. "That's why we're called Special Operations Command -- we routinely do things in environments that the rest of the Air Force typically does not."

Don Beckham, AFSOC chief of ground safety, said the safety emphasis from leaders at all levels made the difference on terra firma, too.

"It had a ripple-down effect," he said, "Everyone in the command knew General Wooley's intent and expectations."

Safety is a force multiplier, Colonel McNabb said. "Losing people or airplanes is unacceptable under any circumstances, but we're such a small command that we can't afford even one preventable mishap without a major impact on our mission."

"From the top down, we continue to make safety the top priority in AFSOC and our Air Commandos responded magnificently at every level," General Wooley said. "Our outstanding safety record means we are protecting our most precious asset -- our people," the general said.

AFSOC's 2006 Air Force Safety Awards include:

-- Secretary of the Air Force Safety Award, for best MAJCOM safety record.
-- Maj. Gen. Benjamin D. Foulois Memorial Award, for most effective MAJCOM-level safety program.
-- Col. Will L. Tubbs Memorial Award for Ground Safety, Category II, for MAJCOM, Field Operating Agency or Direct Reporting Unit with less than 50,000 people assigned.
-- 353rd SOG at Kadena AB chosen for the Air Force Chief of Safety Outstanding Achievement Award for Ground Safety.

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