It’s no accident: Nevada Guard sergeant secures 2023 Distinguished Ground Safety Award


It’s no accident: Nevada Guard sergeant secures 2023 Distinguished Ground Safety Award

By Master Sgt. Erick Studenicka

Nevada Army Guard

CARSON CITY – No seatbelt? You will be chastised.

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 ceremony.

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 from 2010-2019.

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.”