Any business leader wants to keep an accident-free workplace, but few run companies with missions as dangerous as the Army aviation battalion Lt. Col. Chad Chasteen commands at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
He’s in charge of a special operations battalion that flew missions in six countries all over the world last year, including combat assignments in Afghanistan. The battalion did not lose a helicopter or a soldier to a significant accident in the course of business over the past year.
For that record, the Army on Friday gave the 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment recognition for safety excellence. The battalion received a special safety streamer for its flag marking 365 consecutive accident-free working days in the air and on the ground.
The recognition means a lot to the pilots who travel the world dropping Rangers, Green Berets and Navy SEALs into hot spots on land and at sea.
“I place aircraft in the backyards of bad people. That is inherently risky,” said pilot Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jeff Gladden, 46.
He was one of 10 SOAR soldiers who received individual safety awards at a ceremony in the battalion’s hangar. Gladden’s award recognized his 3,500 hours of accident-free flying, a record that dates back to 1996.
The battalion safety award is its second in the past two years. It’s the only one of the Army’s four SOAR battalions to earn a safety award for work in the past year.
A unit would be disqualified from the award if its soldiers get hit in combat or experience a training accident that causes an injury or more than $500,000 worth of damage.
Soldiers also must keep a safe record in their personal lives for a unit to receive the award, meaning personal car accidents would take the battalion out of the running for a safety award, too.
The JBLM SOAR battalion received a safety streamer for the year dating from April 2012 to April 2013. It lost a soldier to a motorcycle accident, Sgt. Nicholas Montague, just after the milestone.
Chasteen took the accident to heart and set a goal to earn another safety streamer following Montague’s death. The battalion has set up motorcycle training and mentoring programs since the accident.
“When you lose a soldier off-duty, it’s even more of a surprise (than in combat) because it doesn’t feel like it’s supposed to happen,” Chasteen said.
The latest safety streamer recognizes a 365-day accident-free run since Montague’s death.
Chasteen’s battalion has 27 helicopters, some of which are deployed continually with its soldiers in Afghanistan.
Army aviation accidents have been declining in recent years as the pace of the wars has slowed. The Army recorded 48 helicopter accidents in 2009 costing $160.2 million in damage.
Last year, the Army counted 14 accidents costing $29.7 million in damage, according to data provided by the Army Safety Center.
Chasteen said the battalion’s safety record stands out in part because of the advanced aircraft it maintains. He called the special operations helicopters “the most complicated equipment in the entire Army.”
After the safety ceremony, the battalion asked its civilian visitors to leave its JBLM headquarters so the soldiers could take part in a classified meeting. They were scheduled to talk about safety.