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News > Safety officer wins "Hall of Fame" award for storied career
Monteith wins Safety
Walt Monteith, deputy director of safety at the Air Armament Center, was recently honored with the Air Force Safety Hall of Fame award. (Courtesy photo)
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Safety officer wins "Hall of Fame" award for storied career

Posted 7/20/2011   Updated 7/20/2011 Email story   Print story


by Kevin Gaddie
Team Eglin Public Affairs

7/20/2011 - EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Walt Monteith, deputy director of safety at the Air Armament Center, was recently honored with the Air Force Safety Hall of Fame award.

The award is given to a recipient whose achievements have significantly enhanced Air Force safety by reducing mishaps while improving safety policies, guidance or procedures.

Monteith manages the AAC safety office's five divisions - ground safety, flight safety, weapons safety, systems safety and range safety. His primary emphasis is with the technical aspects of the range and systems safety divisions.

Monteith has worked with just about every weapons system the military has used, in nearly 40 years of civil service. Among his significant accomplishments, he was a key player in the development of surface and sub-surface launched systems, including the first Patriot and Tomahawk missile tests and the first launch of an Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile.

The Birmingham, Ala. native graduated from Auburn University with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering in 1971 and came to Eglin in 1972 as an aerospace engineer. He was the youngest member of the first range safety engineering organization established at Eglin. He has remained at Eglin ever since.

He acquired a thorough working knowledge of all five of the divisions over the years, and relies on his co-workers' knowledge and expertise in developing weapons systems.

"If you go to any Air Force base, you're going to have the usual ground, flight and weapons safety divisions," Monteith said. "What major range test facilities like Eglin and Edwards have that other bases don't are the systems and range safety divisions, which is due to our weapons acquisitions and testing roles and responsibilities.  Also, our ground, flight and weapons divisions have extra duties due to our test programs."

One safety procedure Monteith saw implemented throughout all multi-service test ranges was the change from each range having a specific type of flight termination system to a common standardized flight termination system in the 1980s.  A flight termination system at one test range base can now be used at any test range base.

"This practice has saved millions of dollars, countless man-hours and greatly facilitated the ease of testing items at multiple locations," he said.

Monteith recalled one missile test event where, as a range safety officer, he had to make a decision to protect lives in the local area while putting his team members in possible harm's way from an entirely different threat.

"We were launching BOMARC missiles as targets off our A-15 site on Okaloosa Island in 1975, with aircraft shooting air-to-air missiles at them over the Gulf of Mexico," he said. "As the a member of the sky screen officer team, I had to call a 'destruct' on one missile, which, instead of pitching downrange into the Gulf, was still going straight up over the island, potentially exposing the public to some danger.  We headed inside an old bunker, which has been there for years. We didn't know what was worse - subject ourselves to falling debris from an exploded missile, or crawl into a bunker where there could be snakes."

Among the significant changes Monteith has seen over his career are the development of long-range "smart" weapons; the growth of unmanned aerial vehicles and the transition of Eglin from a major weapons testing facility, to a facility more focused on training operations.

For Monteith, receiving the Air Force Safety Hall of Fame was "a bit surprising."

"I was nominated for another award, which I thought I was getting instead of this one," he said. "Also, when the AAC commander sent out an e-mail announcing I'd won the award, I received numerous congratulatory messages from people I've worked with over the years. That was gratifying. It was a big honor to receive this, near the end of my career."

Monteith has enjoyed many unique experiences and challenges during his career in safety.  He got an incentive ride in an F-15 July 4, which is at the top of his list of unique experiences in his career.  At 63, he's still having fun and has no immediate plans to retire.

"There is always something different happening and some safety problem to solve," he said. "It hasn't been a run-of-the-mill career. Because of all the different weapons systems I've worked and the many changes I've seen at Eglin and in the Air Force, I've never minded coming to work - but I still enjoy a few days off. It's been a varied career that's been most enjoyable."

Monteith joins another long-time AAC Safety engineer, Preston Parker, technical director for systems safety, who was inducted into the Air Force Safety Hall of Fame six years ago.

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