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Accelerating change leads to National Safety Council Rising Star of Safety

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Senior Master Sgt. Victorio Gutierrez, wing safety superintendent, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, was recognized by the National Safety Council as a Rising Star of Safety for 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Victorio Gutierrez)

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFNS) --

Senior Master Sgt. Victorio Gutierrez, wing safety superintendent at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, was one of 38 people recognized by the National Safety Council as a Rising Star of Safety, Sept 26.

According to the NSC, the program “showcases safety ‘stars’ with a proven track record of workplace safety, leadership and dedication to continuous improvement.” The NSC formally recognized his contributions to safety in the September issue of Safety + Health magazine.

When Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ. Brown, Jr. released his strategic approach of "Accelerate Change or Lose" and accompanying action orders in 2020, service members set their sights on shaping the future through rapid change in order to remain the most dominant and respected Air Force in the world. Gutierrez has embraced this ideology by making some big changes and revisions to the heart of road safety in Europe and beyond.

Gutierrez sticks to his daily motto of “Mission is our priority, safety is our value.”

“In the Air Force, priorities change rapidly due to mission accomplishment; values on the other hand, do not change,” he said. “When a culture, wing, or Airman values safety, then it continually supports the mission’s priorities.”

The NSC’s Safety + Health magazine stated in this year’s announcement, “Sgt. Gutierrez values helping others become better professionals and Airmen. He understood the greatest hazard to Airmen living and working in Europe is driving. Under his leadership, he organized winter vehicle inspections and hands-on local driver’s improvement training for high-risk demographic Airmen, in addition to managing (U.S. Air Forces in Europe’s) only ‘Skid-Car’ training program, teaching new drivers techniques with operating vehicles in icy conditions. The combined efforts have led to 1,500 Airmen trained and reduced traffic-related mishaps by 22%.”

Gutierrez began his Air Force career in aircraft maintenance seven years before cross training into safety.

“The most memorable part of my career was the day I got to cross train into the safety career field,” he said. “I didn’t become an Airman until I cross trained, then I really saw the bigger picture of the Air Force. In maintenance I was in my little world, safety opened every door for me.”

In addition to the Skid-Car program, another notable accomplishment that led Gutierrez to receiving the award included working with Airmen to create the command’s first manual transmission driver’s course.

“For a period of time, there was an increase in privately owned and government vehicle mishaps due to lack of training in driving a manual transmission vehicle,” Gutierrez said. “We took a used 5-speed car, trained instructors to teach others, and then designed measurable training material.”

He mentioned that this helped Airmen with learning the skill, giving them the ability to feel comfortable when operating a manual-transmission vehicle.  

Part of the award also recognizes the real-life efforts of engaging peers to transform safety culture both on and off the job. During his deployment to Afghanistan, Gutierrez established a PersonVue test site to complete the Associate Safety Professional and Certified Safety Professional credentials, which afforded other safety professionals the capability to test in austere environments. He then mentored five subordinates to certification success by organizing study materials and methods, writing articles, and creating training, which eventually led to Air Force funding of online credentialing opportunities for future safety professionals.

“Gutierrez is always bringing up the people around him,” said Chief Master Sgt. James Yerger, the major command safety functional manager, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa. “He was always the person I trusted and someone I could talk to in depth about anything.”

Yerger said that he and Gutierrez “were each other’s sounding boards,” discussing everything from complex combat scenarios involving risk management during deployments to the intricacies of building relationships with other components of the Air Force.

“He is always the safety professional that brings more to the table, he always gave a unique perspective during all of our after action reviews, and he is a great example for others to follow when looking at how to establish relationships with other components of Air Force in order to accomplish the mission,” Yerger said.

“­­­­­­­­­­Being recognized by the NSC spotlights one of our many outstanding safety Airmen who exemplify what we look up to in the profession, it is always an honor to have Air Force safety leaders, and their contributions recognized,” said Chief Master Sgt. Kevin James, the safety career field manager for the Department of the Air Force. “All of us here at the Air Force Safety Center and across the safety enterprise send our congratulations to Senior Master Sgt. Gutierrez.”

The National Safety Council is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to eliminate preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy. The Council has given the award to one Air Force officer or enlisted personnel each of the 12 years since its inception.