In this file photo, MV-22 Osprey from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced) take off from USS Boxer (LHD 4) while operating in the South China Sea in 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Jared Sabins)

NORFOLK, Va. - The Navy annually recognizes one aircraft carrier and one amphibious ship with its attached air wing (CVW) and Marine expeditionary unit (MEU), respectively, with the Admiral Flatley Memorial Award for Aviation Safety. This year’s recipients are USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) with CVW-9 and USS Boxer (LHD 4) with the 11th MEU.

The award recognizes operational readiness and excellence, high-velocity outcomes and exceptional safety program and record for the last fiscal year.

Sailors and Marines on flight decks across the naval enterprise perform complex and hazardous tasks, sometimes for long hours, to accomplish the mission. One commonality amongst these Sailors and Marines is the often-unsung heroes who work side-by-side, ensuring their safety for every evolution.

Sailors wearing the green cross on the back of their MK-1 life preservers (float coats) belong to the ship’s safety division and their sole objective is to safeguard every Sailor and Marine’s safety onboard the vessel. Working with the ship’s crew and their CVW or MEU counterparts, these integrated teams strive to maintain the highest state operational readiness by ensuring safety is inculcated into every activity.

The award recipients’ safety teams excelled at their mission of providing a safe working environment during complex evolutions.

Among their accomplishments, the Boxer’s occupational safety and health programs’ procedural compliance helped lead the ship to a class A and B mishap-free year. Boxer heightened the crew’s risk awareness through training, supervision and ensuring operational risk management training requirements are met by reviewing them during safety stand downs. Additionally, Boxer developed a safety database of discrepancies found during daily walk-throughs of the ship, enabling the safety division to post discrepancies, manage mitigation efforts, and improve the overall safety of the workplace.

An effective safety team is “focused on the same safety mission, identifying hazards, working safely and preventing accidents,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Erika Velezvelez, Boxer safety team member. “Overall, safety teams understand safety goals and are committed to achieving them. Everyone works together toward the same goal to achieve success.”

For John C. Stennis with CVW 9, the team improved its hazard awareness, procedural processes and training. This collaboration established the conditions for 10,403 incident-free fixed-wing launches and recoveries, 11,126 successful sorties, qualification of 42 student naval aviators, and zero class A mishaps during the last fiscal year.

Winning the award “is a direct reflection on our ability to do risk mitigation and do it effectively so we can preserve our material and personnel assets,” said Lt. Steve Augustine, John C. Stennis’ industrial hygiene officer.

A well-managed safety team does more than ensure crew safety – it gives Sailors and Marines assigned to the unit a sense of comfort when completing tasks with an assumed level of danger.

“It creates a safety culture where everyone is committed to working safely as a team, efficiently accomplishing missions and ensuring personnel well-being, both physically and mentally,” said Chief Aviation Machinist Mate Timothy John Merilos, Boxer safety division leading chief petty officer.

Lt. Eric Jensen signals an EA-18G Growler aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) during operations in the Indian Ocean in 2019. (U.S. Navy/MCSN Jeffery L. Southerland)