DOSS keeps safety top priority for Marine aviation

27 Nov 2007 | Cpl. Jonathan K. Teslevich

Marine Corps aircraft conducting operations in Iraq are worth tens of millions of dollars. Their crews are worth millions in training dollars and are priceless to their families and friends, which is why the Corps has a group of Marines and sailors devoted to the safety of those aircraft and crews.

The Department of Operational Safety and Standardization, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), is responsible for implementing and supervising the aviation and ground mishap prevention programs.

“Marine aviation is always in support of groundside operations,” said Lt. Col. Andrew J. Gunderson, director of safety and standardization, DOSS. “We are focused on the war fighter and to better support them. We need to make sure everything we do conserves our assets and personnel. If we don’t, then we’re not going to be as effective helping them fight on the ground.”

In addition to the large part of their work in aviation safety, the DOSS also handles ground safety issues for MAG-16 and its subordinate units.

“In terms of ground safety, you can think of it as a house inspection,” said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph L. Entrekin, an aero-medical safety corpsman, DOSS. “We are looking for things like water leaks and electrical hazards with the goal of reducing any kind of mishap.”

With the group’s personnel safely in their living and work spaces, the DOSS crew can focus the majority of their efforts on aviation safety, which is accomplished through a partnership between themselves and the squadrons.

“With our 11 squadrons here, the aviation safety side is more focused on figuring out how to help them stay safe throughout their deployment,” said Gunderson, a Greendale, Wis., native.

According to Gunderson, the DOSS receives guidance on how to operate the aircraft and wear personal flight equipment from the Naval Air Systems Command and then in turn delivers the guidance out to the squadrons electronically or in person.

“We also get in all the flash reports sent to us by the squadrons,” said Gunderson. “Reports, like a panel falling off an aircraft, are incidents related to the aircraft, whether it’s flying or parked on the ground.”

Any incident that results in mishap-level damage is then forwarded by the DOSS to the Naval Safety Center, which takes input from every safety shop,” said Gunderson. “So whether a mishap happens on either United States coast, or anywhere in the world, its report is disseminated back down to the others by the NSC.”

To prevent the need to generate those flash reports, safety experts like Entrekin travel to the squadron workspaces to teach them about personal gear safety issues.

“We give squadrons individual training on radios and lasers, making sure they know how to use them properly and safely,” said Entrekin, a Washington Court House, Ohio, native. “They need to have qualifications to use the lasers, which flows into making sure they have the proper laser eye protection and equipment, so that they can use them effectively on the .50-caliber machine gun and minigun."

Besides providing training for local squadrons, the DOSS’s members conduct safety surveys of airfields and landing zones in multiple locations in the Marine Corps area of responsibility in Iraq.

“On the airfield side, we want to make sure it is safe for use by having the proper lighting, the proper communications, and that the actual landing zone is safe,” said Entrekin. “In addition, we’ll look for any height hazards, such as water towers or electrical lines, facing the aircraft as they are flying into an airfield. We are able to get global positioning satellite points on the hazard, as well as brief the aircrews on the hazard when they arrive to the area.”

The safety procedures and precautions implemented by the squadrons and the DOSS aren’t a hindrance to conducting an already difficult aviation mission in Iraq, stated Gunderson.

“We in the DOSS shop believe mission is paramount,” said Gunderson. “Safety is a natural outcome of operating and functioning efficiently and correctly.”