AL ASAD, Iraq --
The saying goes that the Marine Corps is winning the war abroad, but losing the war at home. Some Marines are coming home from successful deployments with a sense of invulnerability, and hurting themselves or getting into trouble.
In an effort to keep their Marines alive when they return from their deployment later this year, the “Green Knights” of Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 121 have embarked on an Incident Free Liberty Campaign
“This is just as critical to the Marine Corps as our combat mission here,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Craft, the Green Knights’ commanding officer. “It’s not as sexy, but it’s just as vital. We’re fooling ourselves if we think we are successful when we’re just successful at our tactical mission. We need to succeed at both missions.”
Craft created two task forces, Victor and Kilo, each comprised of Marines from all ranks. At their initial meeting at the beginning of July, Craft assigned each task force the job of coming up with a course of action to keep their peers alive when the squadron returns to the United States. While the focus of the campaign is alcohol related incidents, each team was instructed to consider other hazards faced by Marines, such as motorcycle safety.
Craft believes that Marines are more likely to abide by the plan when they create it themselves. If it is by the Marines, for the Marines, it will be better received by the squadron.
At their next meeting, on July 17, the two task forces presented their plans. The strategy presented by Task Force Kilo focused on what the squadron could do to keep Marines out of bad situations. The Marines suggested things like liberty buddies and a designated driver for each section. The plan also called for every Marine in the squadron to take a tour of a prison facility shortly after arriving home, and to be issued a breathalyzer keychain.
Task Force Victor’s plan called for providing the Marines the tools they need to keep themselves out of trouble. The Marines suggested setting aside time each week for each section to go over safety issues.
“Our idea is to give Marines time to think about the hazards they face, whether it be alcohol, domestic violence, or motorcycle safety,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Malone, the Task Force Victor leader. “And to provide guided discussions so that we give them the time to sit down and think about what they’re doing.”
Craft was pleased with the courses of action his Marines presented, and believes that between the two task forces they covered all the bases needed for a safety plan.
“I compare it to mishap prevention, because this is essentially avoiding personal mishaps, for lack of a better term,” explained Craft. “When I think of preventing aircraft mishaps, I think about two things that happen – we train Marines the best we can to make sure that they don’t make errors when they’re out on the flightline. But we don’t assume that they won’t make mistakes. We have safeguards, backups, people watching over them and other items there to catch the mistakes that do occur. A good safety program sets out to not only prevent mistakes, but to catch mistakes. I think collectively we have all the pieces there.”
The Marines themselves look forward to seeing how their new campaign will affect the squadron once they return home.
“We touched on some very good things that will have an impact on the numbers, on the statistics,” said Sgt. Reece Taylor, a Green Knights flight equipment technician and a member of Task Force Kilo. “I think, without a doubt, that this will have an impact. It will definitely change things for the better.”
Craft says he knows he can not keep his Marines from drinking or having a good time, but that will not keep him from making sure they do it responsibly. What he will not accept is the idea that there is nothing you can do to prevent an incident.
“I won’t accept that it’s inevitable,” said Craft. “I have six kids. There is no way that I would accept the loss of one of my kids. Some would say ‘well, it happens.’ No, I don’t accept that. I feel the same way about our squadron, the difference is I have almost 200 people in this squadron.”