PORTSMOUTH, Va (NNS) -- Preventing World War III is a tough job.
It might sound overly dramatic, but that's exactly what the USS Wyoming (SSBN 742) project team is trying to do.
"When it leaves the shipyard, Wyoming will be out there fighting for us," said Project Engineering and Planning Manager Brian Suter. "We need to fight for the ship and we need to fight for our teammates so we can come through this 27-month availability. We all have the big picture in mind. We are protecting our way of life in America."
That philosophy is what led Suter to coin the project's motto, "7-4-2, Fighting For You," during the team's second Integrated Project Team Development (IPTD) program.
"'Fighting for you' means we are fighting together, sacrificing together and standing together to deliver a national asset back to the fleet to do its job as a global deterrent to war," explained Suter. "We are trying to minimize the gap between production and engineering, managers and mechanics, apprentices and journeymen. That gap is where teamwork suffers and where phrases like 'I give up' or 'I don't care anymore' exist. Successful teams don't live in the gap."
IPTDs are designed to help the project team identify potential risks during the ship's availability and promote relationships to ensure success.
"We're human, so we bump heads," said Cost Advocate Doreka Porter-Wright. "We can disagree, but we all know the end goal is on time, on budget, and nobody gets hurt. The goal isn't to solve all the problems. We're all passionate about what we do and that creates some friction. But building those relationships at the IPTD prevents the differences from driving us apart."
Focusing on the people behind the project is what makes the team successful.
"Together we work to ensure we return this boat and its crew back to sea in a safe and operationally sound condition," said Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Project Manager Gary Copenhaver. "Everyone wants to be a part of a winning team for the project, the shipyard and the Navy."
This commitment to each other and to the bigger picture is also what keeps the project team safe on the job.
"We talk about safety all the time, and it starts with the project superintendent and trickles all the way down," said Suter. "There's a lot of situational awareness involved. It starts with you, but you have to look out for the people around you, too."
"When we talk about safety, we're not just talking about the normal personal protective equipment (PPE)," added Porter-Wright. "We're talking about the specific jobs and what exactly might hurt you. We're not just checking the boxes."
To drive the concept home, the project team developed motivational safety posters featuring their children and family members.
"We decided to put our families in front of us," said Porter-Wright. "We have to be aware of what can hurt us or somebody else. It's a reminder to have that questioning attitude and check behind other people. Don't be afraid to speak up if you see something that doesn't seem right."
"We are trying to change the safety culture by making safety personal to each individual working on the project team," added Copenhaver. "If we don't provide and support a safe working environment for all employees it is impossible to meet the goals of the project team or the shipyard."
For employees who don't have kids, Porter-Wright said the next round of posters will feature pets, grandchildren and other family members.
"Even if it's not someone close to you personally on the poster, it's still a reminder for you to be compassionate toward your coworkers who have other people depending on them to make it home safely. We're all part of the same family," she said.
To Copenhaver, it's important to remember safety should be more than just a priority. "Our priorities change daily at the shipyard," he said. "Safety is a value that each of us must live by daily to ensure we go home the same way we came to work. Nobody gets hurt today."
Safety and teamwork are just two cogs in the Wyoming project machine, and Suter's focus is keeping that machine well-oiled.
"It's easy to place blame on others," he said. "As hard as it is, I refuse to live in that space. Our attitude has so much impact on the work. We're not going to make it if we let our differences dictate our actions toward each other. We can't continue to sacrifice safety for schedule, but we need to be focused on delivering this national asset back to the fleet. So we are going to fight together to make it happen."
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