MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. --
Intercontinental ballistic missile wing mission success relies heavily on safety and readiness, which is why the 341st Missile Wing and 341st Operations Group is spearheading a new pilot program to develop missile squadron safety officers – and the program has quickly gained traction.
“In developing the program here, we saw squadron commanders needed more support in terms of specific ICBM operations safety,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Byrd, 341st MW chief of safety. “We developed the MSSO program to influence and help operators be more safety minded with a different approach than the ICBM operator culture is used to.
“Our pilot program resembles how squadron flight safety officers work,” he continued.
While the ideas were heavily borrowed from flight operations safety, Byrd emphasized that safety matters in the ICBM business are unique, which is why the operations group got out in front.
Currently, only the 341st OG and safety office are developing and promoting this pilot program.
Last April, the 341st MW Safety Office worked to place MSSOs in the 10th, 12th and 490th missile squadrons and in the operations support squadron.
The hard goal: to create a MSSO position that broadens safety knowledge in ICBM operations and changes how safety is thought of in ICBM operations culture.
Before the program started at Malmstrom, safety leaders and operators at all levels and across major commands got together and brainstormed.
Welcome a new breed of missile wing safety officer
The MSSO works for squadron commanders by advising, directing and overseeing their safety plans and policies, and coordinates the information with the wing chief of safety.
“This new relationship between MSSOs, squadron commanders and the wing in regards to operations safety have been beneficial for all because insight is shared more and at higher levels,” said Byrd. “And this breaks through stovepipes of information.”
The pilot program progress has been briefed to Air Force Global Strike Command leaders and has favorable support, added Byrd.
“While the officers occupying the MSSO positions here at Malmstrom are already labeled MSSOs, we want to expand these duties into a status that AFGSC will legitimize with guidance and regulations,” said Byrd.
In support of this goal, MSSOs at Malmstrom attend added safety training and receive a safety designator on their Air Force specialty role, an occupation code that denotes their job.
“MSSOs come into squadrons here as well-trained and safety-minded professionals skilled in newly identified, specific ICBM operations safety matters,” said Byrd. “These new officers also bring in the knowledge of traditional Air Force safety culture.”
Think traditional safety in terms of outdoor safety, driving safety, winter safety and motorcycle safety.
Then think of ICBM operations safety in terms of hard hat expiration dates, field firearm safety when on duty on the wing’s vast acreage, proper-use floors in missile alert facility capsules, chronic fatigue due to extensive driving for duty, and special safety surveys to procure studded snow tires on vehicles for seasonal operational travel versus all terrain, year-round tires used with chains in weather.
“This is an officer who can ask the right questions related to ICBM operations and find the answers,” said Byrd.
New MSSOs talk about the beginning
Working the MSSO concept has been a unique opportunity for the young officers here.
They hone professional development and leadership skills on their first or second crew tour in on-the-job work in staffing and coordination, plus receive special safety training in top-notch courses around the country.
“I was the first MSSO,” said 1st Lt. Michael “Top” Harris, 12th MS MSSO and assistant flight commander.
After the program was developed on paper, Byrd asked Harris if the MSSO job would be something Harris might be interested in.
“I thought that my experience as a unit safety representative and former assignment as a first sergeant in the Army would enable us to determine if there was added value for squadrons to have a MSSO, and if so, I wanted to help to develop the program,” said Harris.
Harris accepted the position and said he feels the MSSO pilot program has made strides for the wing mission.
“I feel the new safety officer role has an important future, and I would even recommend it being integrated at other wings,” said Harris. “Currently squadrons have a unit safety representative who is an officer that takes on the additional safety duties, which has drawbacks.
“This person really only has time for the basic safety training and is only able to maintain safety status quo and make sure inspections are passed. It’s also such a short stint of time spent in the role that it’s tough to make long lasting, positive changes that could affect ICBM operations safety culture,” he continued.
1st Lt. Alexander “Ara” Allard, 490th MS MSSO and assistant flight commander, is one of the newest MSSOs to the role.
“I am just now transitioning into the job and I’m pretty excited. As a MSSO, we are breaking barriers because safety operations is our number one job,” Allard said.
“When we go down to work at the missile alert facility and there’s an issue, as a MSSO we are empowered to make a note or a change on the spot. That’s a strong part of growing safety in an operational environment,” Allard said.
The MSSO pilot program pioneers all agree the opportunity is becoming what they are making it.
Byrd, Harris and Allard said their vision is for the pilot program to grow and be able to look back and see qualitative gains.
They also said that what they’ve seen so far is that MSSOs can deliver positive results, change the operations safety culture for the better, and further missile wing readiness and safety success.