By Monica Spees
Maj. James Steinhagen’s boots squished on the wet pool deck at Gammon Physical Fitness Center as he followed one of the lifeguards to a table where a bulging binder sat.
Among various logs for safety checks at the combat water survival training site, the binder included risk management sheets that served as a guide for lifeguards and officers in charge to assess potentially unsafe situations. Although Junior ROTC Cadets were training in the pool, Steinhagen, the safety officer for the Leader’s Training Course, had to ensure things would go equally as well for the Senior ROTC Cadets that began arriving today.
“I’m the guy who’s supposed to be looking through safety goggles,” Steinhagen said.
Steinhagen has served the Army for 27 years, and this is his first year overseeing LTC safety.
The object of LTC is that Cadets complete the course, but do so with no more than the expected scrapes and bruises, Steinhagen said. He said he serves as another set of eyes after the safety officers with U.S. Army Cadet Command and 1st Brigade, which runs the course, have checked the training sites. Having more than one safety check helps guarantee the sites are safe and structurally sound, especially where rappelling and the high ropes course are concerned.
First Brigade Safety Officer Eddie Jenks has assisted Steinhagen, a cadre member supporting LTC from Georgetown University, in his new position. Jenks, a retired command sergeant major, said there have been no significant safety changes to the course.
“Safety has always been a factor,” Jenks said.
Cadets’ safety is the broad goal for LTC, but every site has specific rules Cadets and officers must follow.
Second Lt. A.J. Herink, the safety officer at the combat water survival site, said his job requires him to watch Cadets for running and horseplay and to decide how to react when there is thunder and lightning outside. Above all, he said he wants a safe learning environment.
“We’re not going to put them in a situation that isn’t safe,” Herink said.
Second Lt. Keegan Wisehart also works at the combat water site. He stands behind Cadets on the 3-meter high diving board, from which they jump into the water below blindfolded and holding a rifle above their head.
“Along with the danger and the fear also comes reward,” Wisehart said, recalling he had already seen JROTC Cadets going through the course this week conquer fears of water and of heights.
But Wisehart said Cadets often need encouragement before jumping, because panicking can cause them to jump into the water unsafely. The most common concerns are Cadets hitting their head with the rifle or sustaining head or neck injuries.
“I tell them, ‘Don’t worry. I’m right here behind you,’ ” Wisehart said.
Steinhagen said heat and humidity were the major concerns this summer, but that LTC has almost obliterated hot weather injuries over the years. He said he wants to be sure that any accident that can be prevented will be.
“It’s a sin to lose a Soldier or an officer to any avoidable thing,” he said.
Although some of the training may be challenging or scary to the Cadets, Steinhagen said he thinks the training is saving lives in the long run.
“The training we do here is tough because the business is tough,” Steinhagen said.
After flipping through the combat water safety binder, Steinhagen turned to another officer.
“Train safe, sir,” he said as he exited the muggy pool building.