Safety Office of the Year: 22nd Air ReFueling Wing, McConnell Air Force Base, KS

By Staff Writer

McConnell AFB [Air Force Base] was officially established in 1951, so it’s seen a variety of changes throughout the decades. The KC-46 represents a new way for the Air Force and AMC [Air Mobility Command] to do business, and that requires buy-in from the entire leadership team here at McConnell. Col Richard Tanner [Commander of the 22d Air Refueling Wing (ARW), McConnell AFB, KS] has very clearly articulated that safety is the responsibility of all front-line supervisors; my team is no different. This award is an excellent punctuation mark to a year of hard work and determination by our safety professionals,” said Lt Col Luke D. Spathes, Chief of Safety, 22 ARW.

In January 2019, when the KC-46 was delivered, all eyes were focused on McConnell. SSgt Roberto R. Rodriguez, Occupational Safety Journeyman, said, “I dealt firsthand in the KC-46 delivery ceremony, which took a lot of different agencies from around [the] base providing their own safety expertise. The day of the ceremony we walked through, making sure everything was taken care of, such as tripping hazards or stage guardrails to safeguard the attendees.”

With the new aircraft, the office at the 22 ARW took on the enormous task of establishing an entirely new KC-46 safety program—from the ground up.

Capt Hunter Shirey, Chief of Flight Safety, said the team looked back at AMC’s last acquisition, the C-17, as a guideline for development. The crosstalk with the safety professionals who assisted in founding the C-17 safety program and working with various agencies on base, Boeing Aerospace Company, and the 344th Air Refueling Squadron at McConnell all contributed valuable information to build the new program. Shirey said, “It has been coming together to find creative and safe solutions to any of the problems that may have come up. It has been interesting. With the KC-135 that’s been around for 60 years, we know what all the main problems on it are, how to fix them, and what to look for, but with the KC-46 it has been all brand-new equipment, avionics, and electronics.” He added that Capt Marshal O. Russell, Deputy Chief of Safety, brought unique expertise to the program because he is one of the very few S-coded individuals who are instructor pilots on the KC-46. Russell is also credited with assisting in the writing of the Operational Risk Management Form, specifically risk mitigation, while flying during chemical defense training. Since January, the fleet of KC-46s has multiplied, and with the KC-135 ops running concurrently, aircraft parking area is at a premium. SSgt Jareth L. Clinard, Weapons Safety, Noncommissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC), said, “Our echo ramp has been there, however, due to its location next to what we use for secure holder safe haven, basically explosive storage for ground transportation vehicles, we had to develop a new $800,000 project and design a place where we could install it on the installation and reduce the hazard away from echo ramp so we would have uninterrupted ops if we needed to have a secure hold. The project was approved by the DoD [Department of Defense] in just 4 days.”

In addition to having the newest aircraft in AMC’s fleet, McConnell also had two significant updates to the base over the past year. The first was the construction of an $11.3 million control tower and the second, a new $9.1 million combat arms training and maintenance (CATM) range. TSgt Jonathan M. Murphy, NCOIC, Occupational Safety, said, “Our control tower was not able to sustain winds, so anytime we were in a high wind advisory, everyone had to evacuate the control tower. We had been tracking and maintaining a RAC [risk assessment code] through our hazard abatement program, and we started construction last year and were able to complete the project this year. In addition to that, we broke ground on our new CATM range that will eliminate a RAC we had been tracking for 10-plus years.”

McConnell also architected a STAMP, or Standard Air Munitions Package, support plan in response to the runway closure at Hill AFB, UT. Clinard said, “It is a headquarters Air Force plan basically designed to rapidly air transport critically needed munitions downrange to support any type of contingency or warfighting effort when other transportation routes, such as naval or ground, aren’t quick enough to get the mission accomplished. Since Hill AFB was having a runway closure, they needed to find a place to support in case that OPLAN was called upon. Working with us, our counterparts at AMC, and with Materiel Command, who are the owners of the STAMP program, figured out our capabilities and ways for us to support when needed.”

Mr. Galen J. Truan, a wildlife biologist with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and lead for the Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) program, said, “The main emphasis is reducing bird strikes with the aircraft, and strikes were reduced by 58 percent.”

Mr. Thomas A. Cable, Wildlife Specialist with the USDA, spoke of the first side-by-side comparison of bird strike rates between the KC-46 and KC-135 to see if the new aircraft has an increased strike potential. The specialists have teamed up with USDA scientists in Ohio at the National Wildlife Research Center because of a noticed trend the KC-46 was showing, but they will have to acquire a full year of data when available in mid-March for a complete analysis.

Both USDA safety professionals who joined the team at McConnell in 2018 have brought new ideas into the program by working with Sedgwick County commissioners to fix drainage issues on the airfield.

Their primary focus has been habitat management to make the airfield less desirable for wildlife instead of trapping or depredating.

Congratulations to the 22 ARW Safety Office for an outstanding year!