ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. Marine Corps will establish a safety center led by a general officer — an upgrade from today’s Marine Corps Safety Division led by a colonel — in a move the assistant commandant of the service says is overdue.
Gen. Eric Smith, who is also serving as acting commandant, on Aug. 29 issued an all-Marines message stating that, “when we have any training mishap, we must conduct a thorough and harsh review of our processes to confirm that our culture of safety is still strong. … [No later than] 15 September 2023, the Marine Corps will conduct unit-level guided discussions of what it means to operate safely. The discussions will produce recommendations on how to improve the Corps’ approach to safety.”
This came after a string of deadly mishaps: an MV-22 Osprey crashed during a training exercise in Australia on Aug. 27, killing three. On Aug. 24, an F/A-18D Hornet crashed near Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, killing the aircraft’s pilot. On Aug. 17, a Marine died during live-fire training at School of Infantry-West, Camp Pendleton, California.
Smith told Defense News Wednesday following his remarks at the Defense News Conference in Arlington, Va., that, “if there’s an incident, what I owe to every parent, to Congress, to the Department of Defense, the Department of Navy, is an absolute review to make sure that all of our processes are good.”
He said each command must conduct its safety review by Sept. 15 and that he expects feedback to reach his level by Oct. 1.
From there, he’ll start working with Col. Everett Good, who leads the safety division today, to sift through areas where the corporals and captains that typically bear the brunt of safety risks say their daily practices deviate from formal protocols.
“This is what you told us to do, but this is actually how it works when you get here to the motor pool,” Smith said.
The Marine Corps will then “go out and correct problems or reinforce good behavior in units that have exceptional safety records to make sure that everything from weapons handling to vehicle maintenance to vehicle operation to aircraft maintenance to aircraft operation is exactly, as I always say, is ruthlessly adhered to,” Smith said.
Though the safety division will get started on the work this fall, “we will place a general officer in charge of Marine Corps safety starting in the summer of ‘24, and we will grow that office.”
The Navy made a similar decision in early 2022, elevating the Naval Safety Center to the Naval Safety Command under the leadership of a two-star admiral.
The sea service made this move after the 2020 fire aboard the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, the fuel spill at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Hawaii, and multiple fatal training accidents.
Smith said putting a general officer in charge of Marine Corps safety will help ensure that changes can be made with minimal red tape.
“That is what I hope to do with the feedback from the corporals and the captains who are living it every single day: the pilots, the operators, the people in charge of ranges. It’s almost always captains and corporals — it’s not generals, but a general in charge of it to supervise it, to authoritatively direct it and ensure that ruthless adherence to our culture of safety: that, I think, will matter,” he said, calling it “high time” the Marines made this move.
Smith, who as assistant commandant is responsible for Marine Corps safety issues, called the service’s safety culture “exceptional.”
But, he added, “when we have a deviation from it, it stands out like a sore thumb. And again, what I owe is to every Marine and their loved ones is absolute clarity that I have driven risk down to the lowest possible level I can drive it to. It’ll never be zero, not in a force that is expeditionary and does warfighting, but to drive it to as close to zero as I can humanly possibly drive it.”
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.