CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan -- On the morning of Nov. 8, a convoy of vehicles belonging to Combat Logistics Battalion 3, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), departed here to deliver supplies to units aboard Forward Operating Bases Fiddlers Green and Geronimo. With limited visibility due to an incoming dust storm, Staff Sgt. Jesus Velasquez’s Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected All-Terrain Vehicle took a left turn and rolled into a ditch.
"At that point, all I could think about was the gunner," said Velasquez, assistant patrol leader, 2nd Platoon, Motor Transport Company B, CLB-3, 1st MLG (FWD). "I knew the risk of a gunner getting hurt increases with any [vehicle-related incident] -- but especially with a rollover."
Without hesitating, Velasquez, a native of Redlands, Calif., reached back, grabbed the gunner and pulled him to safety. By adhering to prescribed rollover procedures and wearing proper protective equipment, none of the vehicle’s five occupants suffered major injuries.
According to Velasquez, vehicle commanders and assistant convoy commanders must conduct pre-combat checks and inspections prior to any mission in order to ensure each member of every convoy has his or her proper equipment.
The PCCs and PCIs are all part of maintaining a safety-conscious mindset epitomized by the phrase "mission accomplishment first, safety always." For the Marines and sailors of CLB-3, 1st MLG (FWD), this phrase has become a keystone for protection against avoidable, personal injuries.
In order to mitigate any on-the-job mishaps, CLB-3 personnel are working together to prevent any incident that can negatively affect their mission of providing logistics support to units within Regimental Combat Team 1, and by extension, the mission of every unit in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
Fortunately, CLB-3’s leadership is genuinely adamant about the battalion’s safety, said Gunnery Sgt. Matisia N. Cato, uniformed tactical safety specialist, Headquarters & Service Company, CLB-3, 1st MLG (FWD). The key leaders of a unit must "buy-in" to safety concepts in order to establish high safety standards. Because young service members often emulate their leadership, procedures for minimizing risks must start at the highest level.
"Instilling a safety culture [in the battalion] helps to mitigate certain risks," said Cato, a native of Bronx, N.Y. "The difference between an ‘accident’ and a ‘mishap’ is that accidents are unavoidable and mishaps are preventable. Even with mishaps, [personal injury and damage] can still be eliminated. The important thing to take from them is that personal protective gear and safety procedures work."
Proper safety procedures to mitigate risks associated with operating in a hostile environment include the donning of personal protective gear at all times and maintaining constant communication. For their safety while working aboard Camp Dwyer, all personnel must follow unit and station-mandated standard operating procedures such as obeying posted speed limits and using dismounted personnel to guide vehicles.
Given the nature of the battalion’s mission -- working with heavy equipment and transporting large amounts of cargo -- the occupational risks associated with their day-to-day operations increase in a deployed environment due to a higher operational tempo requiring longer working hours.
"A lot of people have a misconception that safety procedures are not needed [while deployed]," Cato said. "With complacency comes mishap. The bottom line is that complacency kills. You can’t have a ‘do what you want’ attitude just because you’re in a combat zone. If you start taking short cuts, if you start getting lackadaisical, you will start to see mishaps. Safety is always needed whether in garrison or deployed. The mission always comes first, but you must always be safe."