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Photo Information

Marines and Sailors with Marine Transport Squadron 1 (VMR-1) swim towards an HH-46E Sea Knight helicopter (Pedro), also with VMR-1, during water survival training aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. VMR-1 provides search and rescue support to MCAS Cherry Point based aircraft as well as short and medium range rapid response transport of key personnel and critical logistics. (U.S. Marine Corps official photo by Lance Cpl Steve Acuff/Released)

Photo by Lance Cpl Steve Acuff

VMR-1 leads by example, wins Chief of Naval Operations Aviation Safety Award

1 Mar 2016 | Sgt. Grace L. Waladkewics 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing

Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point's most versatile flying squadron was presented with the U.S. Navy's highest aviation safety award recently for its accomplishments during a historic period in its life.

Marine Transport Squadron 1 was awarded the Chief of Naval Operations Aviation Safety Award for its consistent mission readiness, safety-first mindset and operational excellence while safely managing the operation of three vastly different aircraft types during fiscal year 2015.

The CNO award is given annually to each squadron or unit, afloat, shore, expeditionary-related or safety leadership related, who displayed exceptional execution of duties while remaining diligent in its efforts within the Naval Aviation Safety Program throughout the entire fiscal year.

During 2015, VMR-1 was the only Marine Corps squadron to bring Marines, Sailors and civilians together to operate medium and light jet aircraft that deployed worldwide, as well as rotary wing aircraft that conducted search and rescue missions.

“Marine Transport Squadron 1’s professionalism and uncompromising commitment to safety manifest as consistently high mission support rates and high states of readiness,” explained David Wilkerson, the director of aviation safety at the squadron. “The squadron executes its assigned missions professionally and safely by adhering to proven risk management processes and safety principles allowing us to demonstrate our command-wide focus on operational excellence.”

During the reporting period, VMR-1 successfully conducted 28 search and rescue missions which resulted in 11 saved lives.

VMR-1 flew three different type/model/series aircraft during FY15 including: the C-9B Skytrain, which was used to transport aircrew and support numerous missions within and outside the continental United States, including support to the Black Sea Rotational Force and the Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response; the UC-35D Citation, which executed mission essential operations overseas and with Marine Forces abroad while ensuring the safe and timely transport of high-priority passengers; and the HH-46E Sea Knight search and rescue helicopter, which conducted range sweeps, lifesaving operations, patient transfers, firefighting missions and static demonstrations.

According to Lt. Col. Thomas M. Bedell, the squadron’s commanding officer, VMR-1 consistently exceeds the Chief of Naval Operations goals in mission readiness and it embraces the best-case maintenance practices for a safety-first mindset.

“We integrate the safety mindset into our mission planning and operations,” explained Bedell. “It is a pro-active way of doing business that has resulted in mastering the complexities of maintaining some of the oldest platforms in the Fleet Marine Forces. With all the platforms exceeding their quarterly goals for the fiscal year flight program, we were able to significantly increase support, aircraft availability and training progression.”

According to Wilkerson, the squadron implemented other safety precautions during FY15 including, having the aviation safety officer fly in all three aircraft platforms to provide safety input and perspective in both the operations and maintenance departments; having squadron personnel identify hazards and implement controls to manage risks encountered within the squadron; hosting weekly stand-up meetings and safety systems to enhance hazard awareness amongst pilots and aircrew; analyzing hazard summaries; conducting safety stand-downs; among various other procedures.  

“Although mission accomplishment was of primary importance during the period, it was never achieved at the expense of safe and sound operational and maintenance practices,” said Wilkerson. “The Roadrunners’ application of risk management and effective safety practices via mentorship down to the junior ranks led to successes that extended beyond the squadron spaces. As a direct result of the squadron’s safety-focused leadership, VMR-1 had no off-duty mishaps or alcohol related incidents during the entire fiscal year.”

 The safety precautions the squadron took helped VMR-1 maintain a rate of zero ground and aviation related mishaps during the fiscal year, explained Wilkerson.

With more than 20 CNO safety awards and 250,000 mishap-free flight hours under its belt, VMR-1 moved into FY-2016 with a significant change to its mission.  The Cherry Point search and rescue helicopters had conducted their final flight on Sept. 25 with the sundown of the Marine Corps' SAR mission in eastern North Carolina.  The squadron marked the end of an era that day when it retired the Department of Defense's last serving H-46 helicopters.

But, according to Bedell, it would not be the end of the squadron's safety-conscious operations.  "The Roadrunners of VMR-1 will continue to execute our global support mission aggressively, expertly and safely."

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