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1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 1st Marine Division
Camp Pendleton, California

Several years ago, my unit conducted training in the mountains of northern California. My platoon was responsible for performing 80 percent of the convoy operations. One morning, we were tasked with taking the company’s packs and gear to a distant training area. During one of our scheduled stops, a HMMWV stalled and would not restart. That’s when I made a decision that could have had deadly consequences.

Being a motivated young leader, I decided to rig the truck for towing. As my troops were hooking up the tow bar, I noticed one of the drivers tearing through his truck. I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was looking for the safety chain. I’d worked with HMMWVs my whole career and towed more trucks than I could count. In all those times, though, I’d never used a safety chain with a tow bar, so I told him to disregard and get ready to move out.

Due to the mountainous terrain, we’d adjusted our convoy speed to 15 mph. The truck we were towing seemed to be doing well, so as we passed through base camp, I made the command decision to continue on to our training area. Once there, we unloaded the packs and gear and checked the tow bar to ensure it was still secure. All looked good, so we headed back to lower base camp to drop off the downed vehicle and check the rest of the trucks in the convoy.

On our way back down the mountain, I started receiving calls over the radio that some of the vehicles’ brakes were failing and drivers were using the emergency brakes to slow their trucks. By the time I reached the base of the mountain, I figured we were all out of the woods. Then the call came in.

“Vic 1, this is Vic 10. Truck down!”

We consolidated the rest of the convoy at the base of the mountain and I sent them on to base camp. I then went back up the mountain to see what was happening. Once I arrived, I only saw one truck on the road — and it was facing the wrong direction. Where was the other truck?

The driver told me he was traveling down the mountain when his brakes failed. As the truck continued to pick up speed, he pumped the brakes until they locked, causing the HMMWV he was towing to slam into the tow bar and break the bracket on the driver’s side. The HMMWV then went into the oncoming traffic lane and started passing the truck towing it. The passenger-side bracket broke and the HMMWV traveled down the mountain for about 500 yards before finally going into a ditch. Fortunately, no one was injured. If there had been a vehicle coming up the road, though, the runaway HMMWV surely would have killed its occupants.

If I had listened to that young driver from the beginning and used the safety chain on the tow vehicle, this accident never would have happened. A properly attached safety chain prevents the truck from moving into oncoming traffic should the tow bar break. While there still might be damage to the vehicles, we could prevent loss of life. As senior leaders, we have to realize we don’t know everything. Sometimes we have to listen to our younger troops to help us make the right decisions.

Towing the Line

Directorate of Assessments and Prevention
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama

Conducting recovery operations on a disabled or mired vehicle may be an urgent mission to accomplish. However, leaders and Soldiers should be cognizant that removing equipment or vehicles from the battlefield or training areas is an inherently dangerous task. During this type of operation, the application of risk management from the start of the planning process through the execution phase is critical to mission success.

Since their inception, Army vehicles and equipment have always needed maintenance support. If repairs are not possible, then a recovery or tow is required. Maintainers usually work to return inoperable or immobile vehicles and assets to users as soon as possible in an effort to sustain unit readiness. However, there is more to recovery and towing than just hitching up and taking off down the road.

Once connected to a piece of equipment or another vehicle, the recovery vehicle will require careful driving. The overall handling of the vehicle becomes different and operators and maintainers need to consider provisions for braking, accelerating and the terrain they may encounter while driving. Whether towing an MRAP, HMMWV or M1 Abrams tank, the weight of the towed vehicle becomes an important factor when it comes to braking. The heavier the towed vehicle, the greater the distance becomes for the operator to stop it safely.

It’s imperative when Soldiers are retrieving damaged equipment or towing a disabled vehicle that leaders ensure only trained personnel conduct these dangerous tasks. Soldiers authorized to perform recovery missions must be experienced on winching, lifting and towing and follow all guidelines set forth in Field Manual 4-30.31, Recovery and Battle Damage Assessment and Repair. Additionally, they should heed all safety warnings listed in the technical manuals for the equipment involved. Vehicle and equipment recovery operations are successful only when Soldiers follow the proper procedures and safety precautions.

Remember, maintaining awareness of the risks associated with recovery operations will help prevent injury to personnel and damage to equipment. As in most driving situations, exposure to certain hazards is inevitable; therefore, Soldiers need to complete a risk assessment before entering or attempting to recover or tow equipment. Soldiers assigned to perform these missions must be knowledgeable on the mechanical functions of the equipment they are recovering, including the use of specialized basic-issue items and recovery operations in a tactical environment.

Important safety points to remember when conducting recovery and towing operations of a disabled vehicle or piece of equipment include:

• Proper procedures listed in FM 4-30.31 must be followed and extreme caution used to prevent further damage to equipment and injury of personnel.

• Personnel must stand clear of wire rope under tension and be on the opposite angle of pull. The minimum safe distance is twice the length of the payed-out cable.

• Ensure a trained wheeled vehicle recovery specialist (additional skill identifier H8) is part of the recovery team.

• Do not exceed 25 mph on the highway and 15 mph off road when towing a single vehicle.

• Drivers need to understand that stopping distances increase greatly when the towed vehicle has malfunctioning brakes.

• If the brakes of the disabled vehicle are inoperable, do not flat tow the disabled vehicle. Call for wrecker support.

• When moving or towing a vehicle with inoperable brakes using a wrecker, use extreme caution and reduce speed accordingly.

• Be aware of local terrain, weather and other conditions that may require speed reduction.

• Move towed loads at slow speed and avoid sharp turns. Proceed slowly in turns at approximately 5-10 mph to prevent skidding.

• A tow bar should be the first choice before using chains, ropes or cables.

• When using a tow bar, also connect a chain between the two vehicles for safety in case the bar breaks or becomes disconnected.

• Connect cables, chains or ropes, if used, to the pintle of the prime mover and to the lifting shackles of the towed vehicle.

• Do not put hands near the pintle hook when aligning it with the lunette eye hook.

• In cities or heavy traffic, tie the front lifting shackles of the towed vehicle tightly to the rear lifting shackles of the prime mover and connect the air brake lines.

• Do not move a recovery or towing vehicle without the assistance of ground guide. Ground guides must be visible to operators at all times.

• Never stand between two vehicles when the prime mover is backing up to the disabled vehicle; serious injury or death may result.

• Ensure all personnel are clear of the vehicle before removing wheel chocks and before starting the towing.

• Personnel must not occupy the vehicle during recovery operations. Failure to comply may result in serious injury or death to personnel.

• All wheels remaining on the ground of the towed vehicle should be serviceable; this will increase system stability and reduce the risk of further damage.


Are you aware Field Manual 4-30.31, Recovery and Battle Damage Assessment and Repair, focuses on the components necessary for conducting equipment recovery and towing during wartime operations and during military operations other than war? To access this publication and others related to equipment safety operations, check out the Driver’s Training Toolbox at https://safety.army.mil/ON-DUTY/DriversTrainingToolbox.aspx. Having a strong, solid foundation on the requirements for conducting vehicle and equipment recovery will enable personnel and equipment to be safely postured.

  • 8 April 2018
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 1083
  • Comments: 0