Safety: The curse that protects the 442nd

Lt. Col. Patrick Murphy, 442nd Fighter Wing chief of safety, is frequently on the lookout for safety hazards. The safety office, comprised of nine Airmen, have an ongoing mission to look for safety deficiencies. The 442nd Fighter Wing is an Air Force Reserve unit at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt.  Kent Kagarise)

Lt. Col. Patrick Murphy, 442nd Fighter Wing chief of safety, is frequently on the lookout for safety hazards. The safety office, comprised of nine Airmen, have an ongoing mission to look for safety deficiencies. The 442nd Fighter Wing is an Air Force Reserve unit at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kent Kagarise)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- After two days of hiding from thunderstorms and mud, the third day of the 442nd Fighter Wing's operational readiness inspection brought many Airmen out from under cover and into a safer atmosphere.

Having been given the opportunity to flee the tight confines of the wing's unit control center, Lt. Col. Patrick Murphy, 442nd FW chief of safety, grabbed his helmet and backpack, and headed for the door to do the "Safety Dance."

On his way back to the personnel center at the end of a rainy day two of the ORI, Colonel Murphy noticed the grass path was very saturated.

"This'll be an absolute muddy gauntlet by tomorrow," Colonel Murphy said. "We'll need to do something about it before the morning shift change - before someone slips and gets hurt."

The following morning, Airman were treated to a line of cones on the road allowing them to walk on a much safer asphalt surface as opposed to the sloppy trough adjacent to them.

Colonel Murphy's head was always on a swivel. As he approached the flight line, he noticed a metal wire running between 4-foot high poles and lifted it for those walking with him.

"This thing is really dangerous," Colonel Murphy said. "I'd like to see them remove this because a few people have walked into it in the darkness of night," he said. "We've been lucky nobody's been seriously injured."

"Safety First," is a slogan most Airmen are familiar with, but the safety office holds a different philosophy when it comes to the safety of the 442nd Fighter Wing.

"Mission first, safety always," Colonel Murphy said. "What that means to me is the mission is our priority, but priorities change - safety doesn't," he said. "Missions come and go; safety stays the same."

Safety is an ongoing process for Colonel Murphy and his staff of nine Airmen. They are constantly on the lookout for deficiencies. But planning, he said, is the key to preventing injuries. As the ORI approached, the 442nd FW's safety office was hard at work.

"We've already done our job," Colonel Murphy said. "If there are problems, the ORI is not the time to find them. We've already found the things that needed to be fixed, and now they should be working."

Colonel Murphy said he is very proud of the wing's safety office and speaks highly of the personnel who have years of experience in the safety field.

"It's almost as if these guys have extra brain cells due to their expertise, and that makes the job easy," he said.

Rarely however, do Airman in the safety office take credit for any accolades their team receives.

"What makes safety successful in the wing is the people and their culture of safety," said Steve Smith, 442nd chief of weapons safety. "We offer them guidance and continuity to assist them in maintaining an attitude of safety."

Staff Sgt. James VanGilder, 442nd Fighter Wing ground safety manager said he finds it comforting to be a part of an office whose job is to look out for the welfare of its fellow Airmen.

"There's a certain sense of responsibility to know that their safety is on your shoulders," Sergeant VanGilder said.

And that's not something Colonel Murphy takes lightly.

"I've been working in safety for five years and it's kind of a curse," he said. "We're all trained on it but when you're designated to be the guy responsible for people's safety, you start noticing everything and realize it's not safe to get out of bed in the morning."

The 442nd Fighter Wing can be thankful that its safety personnel all respond to their clock radios in the morning and put on their non-slip, rubber-soled slippers and make their way to work - buckled up of course.