It’s no accident: Nevada Guard sergeant secures 2023 Distinguished Ground Safety Award
no accident: Nevada Guard sergeant secures 2023 Distinguished Ground Safety
Master Sgt. Erick Studenicka
CARSON CITY – No seatbelt? You will be
On the top step of the ladder? You will
get a scolding.
No protective gear while riding your
motorcycle? Now you are in real trouble and will receive a reprimand!
Like a de facto protective parent, state safety
specialist Sgt. 1st Class Don Gibbs, 60, of Dayton, constantly keeps tabs on
Nevada Guard Soldiers to ensure they are completing their tasks and missions as
safely as possible while reducing ancillary risks. Although his admonishments
may seem pesky, Gibbs dedication to safety is extraordinary, evidenced by the
fact he received the Army National Guard’s Distinguished Ground Safety Award
for 2023 in December in San Antonio, Texas. Only two Soldiers in the entire
Army National Guard received the award for 2023.
“Sgt. 1st Class Gibbs exhibited superior
excellence and distinguished accomplishments within the Nevada Army Guard’s
ground safety program during 2023,” said Col. Aaron Schilleci during the award
The Army Ground Safety program includes
oversight of all Army ground activities including vehicle operation, ammunition
storage and potential environment hazards.
Eligibility for the Distinguished Ground
Safety Award is extremely difficult to acquire, as a state must go two years
without recording an on-duty Class A (fatality or disabling injury and/or $2
million in damage) or Class B (injury and/or $500,000 to $1 million in damage) accident
to make its state safety specialist eligible for the rare award. In fact, the
Nevada Army Guard has not incurred a on-duty Class A or B accident since Gibbs
was hired as the state safety specialist in 2019.
“It is no coincidence the absence of
on-duty Class A and B accidents coincides with the hiring of Gibbs,” said state
safety officer Capt. David Henry. (The Nevada Army Guard has recorded two
off-duty Class A accidents since 2019 due to vehicle fatalities.)
Henry said Gibbs was an easy choice for
the award because of his dedication to the safety program and the fact he goes
above-and-beyond in his position to exceed program standards. For example,
Gibbs instructed more than 300 students in 2023 at about 30 motorcycle safety
classes across the state – on his personal time. Gibbs also compiled and edited
the internal safety newsletter “Safe Bets” on his own time to share current,
best safety practices with the state’s Soldiers.
Gibbs did those tasks in addition to his
usual duties of organizing and instructing Occupational Safety and Health
Administration and confined spaces classes as well as forklift training. Gibbs
and Henry also planned and coordinated the 2023 Western Region Safety Council
meeting in Reno where councilmembers could share their ideas to standardize and
modernize safety functions across the Army Guard.
When Gibbs was hired by the Nevada Army
Guard in 2019, it marked a homecoming for the native Nevadan who grew up in
Clark County and graduated from Las Vegas High School in 1981. After high
school, Gibbs recorded a stint in the Marines Corps until 1987 when he began
his longtime civilian career as a first responder and law enforcement officer
in Soldotna, Alaska, as a firefighter and emergency medical technician.
After meeting and marrying his wife Renae
in Alaska, Gibbs relocated to his spouse’s home state, South Dakota, and he became
a Custer County Sheriff’s Deputy. He subsequently was a Sturgis police officer
About the same time in life, Gibbs
realized his first responder and law enforcement skills could be useful in the
military and he enlisted in the South Dakota Army Guard in 2009 as a medic.
While in the South Dakota Guard, Gibbs
gravitated toward the safety arena with the realization that safety is a top
key to military readiness.
“As my years of experience in law
enforcement and emergency response continued, it became increasingly clear to
me that safety and prevention are the simplest way to decrease and minimize
devastating events and mishaps,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs knows he won’t win the 2024
Distinguished Ground Safety Award but it’s for a good reason – he’s set to
retire this April. He’s looking forward to spending more time with Renae, his
two daughters, Katelyn and Kaitlin, and grandsons Owen, 7, and Louis, 1.
Even with retirement on the horizon, Gibbs
warns Nevada Soldiers to continue to prioritize safety and he notes his safety
admonishment bark is as sharp as ever.
“We have all had moments of second
guessing in our lives,” Gibbs said. “It’s my goal to make sure we are not
second guessing about the safety precautions and measures we could have taken
in the event of any mishap in our lives.”