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Master Sgt. Roger Schechinger is the safety officer for the 3rd Marine Division. Last year the division reduced the number of on and off-duty accidents by 24 percent.
Master Sgt. Roger Schechinger is the safety officer for the 3rd Marine Division. Last year the division reduced the number of on and off-duty accidents by 24 percent. (David Allen / S&S)

CAMP COURTNEY, Okinawa — The 3rd Marine Division is becoming a much safer place to be.

And that’s good news for everyone on Okinawa, says the division’s safety officer, Master Sgt. Roger Schechinger.

During the past fiscal year, the Okinawa-based division reported a 25 percent reduction in “Class A and B” mishaps, and a 24 percent reduction in less serious accidents.

Class A mishaps are those that result in fatalities, total disabilities or property damage of $1 million or more. Class B mishaps are accidents involving permanent partial disabilities, the hospitalization of three or more personnel, or damages of $200,000 to $1 million.

“In fiscal 2003, we had a total of 528 mishaps, for a loss of $823,011 to the division,” Schechinger said recently at the division’s safety office. “That’s a 24 percent reduction in mishaps overall from the 692 in FY ’02, for a savings of $712,956.”

The savings in personnel are calculated by how much money it costs the division for the loss of one Marine for a day — $375.

The mishaps include all accidents — on and off-duty — involving uniformed personnel, he said.

“We’re especially pleased by our traffic stats,” he added.

In 2003, the division had 35 accidents involving government vehicles, a 42 percent drop from 60 the previous year and a 45 percent drop in accidents involving private vehicles, from 149 in 2002 to 82.

Accidents involving drivers under the influence of alcohol dropped by 23 percent, from 48 to 37, Schechinger said. “And that should show our Okinawa neighbors that we are serious in reducing the numbers of accidents involving our personnel.”

Schechinger is the only safety officer for the 9,500-member division. He spends most of his time in briefings for new Marines and sailors and their families and doing on-site inspections of workplaces and training grounds.

“It took two years to get to where we are now, to get a safety mind-set all the way through the ranks, from the top brass to the privates and from being out in town on liberty to out in the field on some operation,” he said. “What we’ve done is established a culture of safety awareness.”

It’s a different Corps than the one Schechinger found 19 years ago fresh out of boot camp.

“There wasn’t any safety culture back then,” he said. “No one talked about safety.”

In 2001 Gen. James L. Jones, the former commandant of the Marine Corps, challenged Marines to “change the way in which we incorporated safety into every aspect of our daily routines.”

The “Commandant’s Campaign” set a goal of a 5 percent reduction in operational and off-duty mishaps each year through fiscal year 2006.

“We here at the division have exceeded these goals every year for the past three years due to hard work and the effort of all 3rd Marine Division Marines and sailors,” Schechinger said.

He said the reduction in mishaps makes the division more combat-ready.

“Safety directly affects our combat readiness,” he said. “If a Marine goes down due to an off-duty accident, that affects our combat readiness.

“What worked here is we have a commitment emphasizing safety from the top down. We’re changing the mind-set of every Marine.”

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