Nick Biesold, Mike Wilfong and Ryan Hough have cumulatively served for decades in the Army and the Marines. They’ve served in the air, on land and at sea. They’ve been deployed stateside, around the world on amphibious aircraft carriers, in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
As Memorial Day approaches this year, though, all three men find themselves in the same place: McKinstry’s safety department.
“It’s funny, when I was in basic training and in Iraq, they always harped on us about personal protective equipment and keeping our gloves and helmet on—I get why now,” said Nick, a former Army combat engineer and current safety manager at McKinstry.
“In Iraq, I most did route clearance for IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices] and supposedly, statistically, every IED we got rid of saved 3.6 lives,” Nick added. “Even on the bad days, you knew you were saving lives, and that’s true at McKinstry too. We’re here to help—you want people to do things the right way and prevent anyone getting injured or worse.”
For Ryan—McKinstry’s director of standardization and safety and a former Marine Corps officer—safety was an integral part of his routine as a Harrier pilot. Ryan said that cutting corners was out of the question in military aviation, one of the many reasons why he loved his job flying jets.
“My decision to leave the military was all about my wife and three sons and wanting to be a part of their lives,” Ryan explained. “I didn’t want an ordinary job, though, it was important to me to work for the greater good. I get to do something at McKinstry that makes a difference: Making jobsites safer and making folks’ lives easier on the standardization side, and that matters to me.”
Mike actually worked under Ryan when he was doing quality assurance for a Marine squadron, and when Mike decided to voluntarily separate from the military after 15 years of avionics service in the Marine Corps, it wasn’t long before Ryan was encouraging him to apply to McKinstry.
“McKinstry has made the transition easy since I started here last year, and it’s helped that safety is paramount in both places—it’s extremely important that everyone works safely, quickly, and efficiently,” Mike said.
“Coaching and mentoring is emphasized at McKinstry, and rightly so, because you have to build people up rather than beating them down,” Mike added. “The safety guy rolling up to a jobsite shouldn’t be a concern in the military or in construction—I’m glad I don’t have to be a ‘safety cop’ at McKinstry.”
All three men started working for McKinstry’s safety department in 2015, and they’ve all played important and enthusiastic roles in McKinstry’s ongoing drive to be an industry leader when it comes to safety.
“Every company says safety is important and good, just like America, apple pie and baseball,” Ryan said. “McKinstry has 21 dedicated safety professionals, a robust safety training program with thousands of hours of classes every year, and weekly audits of jobsites, so we don’t just say it—we put our money where our mouth is.
“That kind of safety culture is completely natural in the military out of necessity, and the same is true here at McKinstry, which is incredible,” he concluded. “It makes us different.”
Nick agrees, and he pointed out that “a decent number” of people died tragically while he was in Iraq due to preventable, self-inflicted accidents.
“You get into trouble when safety becomes just ‘something you have to do’ or a just a law you have to follow,” Nick opined. “It has to be integrated into every piece of the work, and unless people are passionate about the necessity of safety, you’ll never be as safe as you can be.”
For Mike, whose unit ran its own security on flight lines at two different air bases in Afghanistan, safety has always been a high-stakes endeavor.
“We were always worried about someone shooting down a jet or a helicopter, so I spent a lot of time in high-risk areas,” Mike said. “Safety has to be done right every time, or else.”
Memorial Day holds special significance for Nick, Ryan and Mike, who are all proud to recognize those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice.
“I have friends, classmates and colleagues who’ve given their lives doing what their country asked them to do,” Ryan said. “I’m grateful and thankful that we have our best & brightest serving in a volunteer force, and I will always remember those we’ve lost.”
At McKinstry, we recognize Memorial Day as a time for solemn remembrance and appreciation of the fallen men and women of America’s armed forces. Their sacrifice can’t be forgotten, and we’re grateful for the peace and safety afforded to our nation due to their heroism.