The Wrong Way
SGT. DALE SMITH
Fort Shafter, Hawaii
Several years ago, I was deployed to Iraq. We’d just left our outpost and were moving to set up a new one. Once there, my Soldiers and I got busy inside the headquarters setting up walls, radios and other equipment. When our first palletized load system (PLS) showed up, the driver dropped off a CONEX next to us. A second PLS then showed up and, while we were outside taking a break, we could hear it backing up. Suddenly, we heard Soldiers yelling for the PLS to stop. My only thought was, “This can’t be good.”
The second PLS was backing up to the first CONEX, trying to get as close to it as possible. The NCO that was ground guiding the PLS was directly behind it instead of off to the side. Since the driver couldn’t see her, he kept backing up and pinned the NCO between the pintle hook and CONEX. He didn’t know he had pinned her and kept backing up. Finally, someone got his attention and yelled for him to pull forward. Once he did, several of our NCOs raced in to check on the ground guide. She suffered serious injuries and was medically evacuated out of theater.
For me, this situation was hard because, as Soldiers, we know the right way to do our jobs. On the flip side, we also know the wrong way. Sometimes we take shortcuts because we want to get the mission completed quickly so we can move on to another task or get home.
I learned some non-negotiable ground guiding procedures that terrible day. It’s my hope that you’ll heed my advice and won’t have to watch a comrade be nearly crushed to death.
- Always have two ground guides when backing vehicles and equipment. Ensure there’s one in the front just off to the side, while the other is off to the side to the rear of the vehicle/equipment.
- Only one ground guide gives signals to the operator. Be sure everyone involved (the operator and ground guides) understands who will give the signal and who will receive it before any movement is done.
- If sight between the operator and the ground guide making the signal is lost, the operator must stop the vehicle until the ground guide signal is again visible or the confusion is cleared up.
I believe in following these simple steps so accidents like the one I witnessed won’t happen again. To me, the accident was sad because the injured NCO’s career was over the second she stepped behind the PLS. Always ensure you know your responsibilities as a driver and ground guide. NCOs must always lead by example. Never take shortcuts just to finish sooner. It’s better to follow the standards and be safe than injured or dead.
It may seem there isn’t much to ground guiding a vehicle. It’s dangerous work, though, if you don’t know what you’re doing. To help ensure you’re not injured in a preventable accident, check out Army Regulation (AR) 385-10, The Army Safety Program; AR 600-55, The Army Driver and Operator Standardization Program (Selection, Training, Testing, and Licensing); Training Circular (TC) 21-305, Training Program for Wheeled Vehicle Accident Avoidance; and TC 21-306, Tracked Vehicle Combat Training, all of which provide guidance on the use of ground guides and ground-guiding procedures. In addition to the publications mentioned above, use the procedures below to manage the risks associated with ground-guiding operations.
- All drivers and other unit personnel will be trained to standard in the correct use of ground guides and ground-guiding operations.
- Always use ground guides when backing and in congested areas.
- When traveling cross-country during periods of limited visibility, ground guides will be used. Drivers will keep ground guides in view at all times.
- Ground guides will be used in bivouac and assembly areas.
- Two ground guides will be used when vision is restricted. Ground guides will never walk backward and never get between two vehicles.
- During periods of limited visibility or darkness, ground guides will be equipped with suitable lights (two flashlights and extra batteries).
- Ground guides will use hand signals. Voice signals can be misunderstood or go unheard.
- Ground guides also will:
- Keep proper distance from the vehicle (10 yards).
- Give signals only to the vehicle driver.
- Stay out of the path of travel.
- Stay in the driver’s line of sight.
- Keep to the side and front (or rear) of the vehicle (driver’s side is best).
- Clear themselves, clear the vehicle and, finally, give the command to move the vehicle.