CAMP KINSER, OKINAWA, Japan -- Master Gunnery Sgt. Steven R. Kerste, 3rd Marine Logistics Group safety chief, joined the Marine Corps Oct. 15, 1990 as a refrigeration mechanic and has been honorably serving ever since.
He has served with 12 different units throughout his 28 years. He said his most memorable time was with the Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group 11 (MSSG-11).
While he was with the MSSG-11, he was sent to assist with clean-up in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Kerste said they would get daily missions to go into the neighborhoods and clear debris.
Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than 800,000 housing units with an estimated cost of over $160 billion across three different states.
“One neighborhood we went to, there was a 96-year-old woman and a 94-year-old man,” Kerste said.
He continued to explain how their yard was filled with debris and how the woman had to climb over a tree to get out of her house.
“It’s the first time I’d ever heard it, but when she pulled up and saw that we had already cleared the yard, she said, ‘Thank God the Marines are here,’” Kerste explained. “That small deployment was the most honorable thing I have ever done as a Marine.”
After finishing his tours with various units, he was selected for master gunnery sergeant and sent to 3rd MLG in Okinawa, Japan, to become the 3rd MLG safety chief.
This billet has many duties, including reviewing safety orders and ensuring that the various units within the command follow the procedures that the Marine Corps has put in place.
While serving in this billet, Kerste found that the Marine Corps did not have any safety procedures for operating in confined spaces, such as holding tanks or underground culverts.
“I sent all of our findings to the Marine Corps Safety Center and they did not understand how [they had not] seen that before,” said Kerste.
Because of Kerste’s initiative, the 3rd MLG Safety Office has begun to write a safety order for the confined space entry program.
As well as finding the confined spaces problem, there has been a 53 percent reduction in ground mishaps since Kerste has been the safety chief. A ground mishap is any accident that happens on the ground, including spraining an ankle, car accidents or cutting your hand.
Due to his significant contributions and accomplishments in the field of safety, mishap prevention and force preservation, he was awarded the 2017 Marine Corps Ground Safety Award.
“I didn’t know much about safety coming into this billet, but now I do,” said Kerste. “I can’t fix it all, but I am going to fix what I can while I am still in this billet and in the Marine Corps.”