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Staff Sgt. Kristina Wilber, safety officer for 7th Communication Battalion on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, is the recipient of the Navy League’s Gen. James L. Jones individual safety award for 2005.

Staff Sgt. Kristina Wilber, safety officer for 7th Communication Battalion on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, is the recipient of the Navy League’s Gen. James L. Jones individual safety award for 2005. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — If someone had told Staff Sgt. Kristina Wilber two years ago that she would be selected as the safety officer of the year for 2005, she probably would have fallen over laughing. After all, safety wasn’t at the forefront of the mind of the Marine who was a self-described “safety nightmare.”

“I’ve been on crutches, had stitches and numerous concussions. … I’ve had every body part X-rayed,” she said.

Even though she had never ridden a motorcycle before, she bought a dirt bike as a promotion present to herself several years ago. After only two hours of practice, she tried to take some small jumps and wound up on the ground.

Despite her unsafe past, Wilber, who is the safety officer for 7th Communication Battalion, recently was honored as the Navy League’s recipient of the Gen. James L. Jones individual safety award for 2005. She received a certificate and a check for $1,000 during the league’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition in Washington, D.C., in early April. Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter presented the award.

The award recognizes Wilber as the Marine Corps’ individual who “best exemplified and advanced a culture of safety during the previous calendar year,” according to a Navy League news release. The release stated her efforts helped reduce the battalion’s safety-related incidents by 75 percent.

Wilber’s job in the battalion is to oversee all aspects of safety, on-duty or off. She said that covers everything from conservation of hearing to prevention of mishaps. She’s helped drop the mishap rate not by shaking her finger and telling Marines what to do and not do, but by simply getting her safety message across.

“With recreational safety, it’s usually a lack of knowledge, and with occupational safety, it’s a problem of work speed — trying to get work done quickly,” said Wilber, who has been the safety officer for 16 months. “My main target is to get the knowledge to them; I’m not going to be their baby sitter. I just give them the tools and let them work with them.

“Nobody likes the safety officer. … it’s like a mom walking into the kid’s room. I want to be a source of information, not their mom.”

One of her more successful safety ventures is a calendar, which Wilber called her “psy-ops project.” It features historic events on corresponding days and safety messages. She said when Marines read the trivia they eventually scroll over to her messages.

The bottom line, Wilber said, is she doesn’t want the Marines in her battalion to make the same mistakes she did in the past and not think about safety.

“I tell the Marines, ‘You can do about any legal activity you want; you just need to find a way to do it safely,’ ” Wilber said. “It’s not about eliminating all risks because that’s impossible. It’s about eliminating all unnecessary risks.”

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