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Safety First

NS18

Safety personnel with the 110th Attack Wing, Battle Creek, Mich., and Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Alpena, Mich., ensure that mission safety comes first during Northern Strike 18 (Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Tiffany Clark/released).

ALPENA READINESS TRAINING CENTER, Michigan -- It’s said all the time, especially on military installations such as Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Alpena, Mich., where aircraft, equipment, and personnel come and go from the installation at all hours.

When there are this many moving parts, there has to be some way to ensure the safety of everyone involved, whether it’s for an exercise – such as Northern Strike 18, which includes upwards of 1,500 personnel and multiple fixed-wing and rotary aircraft – or day-to-day operations.

At Alpena CRTC, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Czajka.

Czajka, chief of safety, Alpena CRTC, joined the military 35 years ago because he wasn’t quite ready to go to college.

“I knew I was doing the right thing when I joined the military. I am from a military family and it gave me some time to figure things out,” said Czajka. “I don’t regret a day of my time in the service – some of the best people in this nation are in the military.”

Czajka stepped into the safety field seven years ago from aircraft maintenance, and he says he couldn’t do his job without the help of his team and other safety officers across the country.

HIs job is to seek out issues that cause possible accidents, and by having a presence in the field, it makes his job easier and helps with training and prevention, thereby mitigating risk.

“Some of the smartest people I know are in safety across the guard, and everyone is just a phone call away,” said Czajka. “If I don’t know, I have a network of people I can call for help.”

Czajka and his team do safety checks almost daily and prefer to work with each section to lessen the possibility of losing equipment or personnel in an accident.

“At Northern Strike, the biggest challenge has been the weapons safety piece, making sure they don’t have more than they are allotted, and ensuring that the aircraft are a safe distance apart,” Czajka said. “We are out every day, looking at everything, whether it be here, the quarry, Camp Grayling, the weapons piece, and little bit of the flight stuff.”

It is apparent in observing Czajka’s philosophy and approach to his work that proactivity is a major part of preventing safety incidents.

“Simply walking into a shop and meeting people and saying, ‘hey, I’m the safety guy,’ you learn a lot about what’s going on in the field. You can’t learn anything by sitting behind a desk,” said Czajka.

“The minute you think you have learned it all, you learn something new.”