COMPILED BY THE KNOWLEDGE STAFF
It was a typical summer night at the Joint Readiness Training Center — hot and humid. A unit was conducting an exercise that simulated an assault on a town and included mounted and dismounted Soldiers. Shortly after the exercise began, the light infantry dismounted from a truck about a kilometer from the objective and linked up with some M1 tanks.
It was getting dark, so the tanks’ drivers switched on their driver’s night sights. The dismounted infantry took up positions near the tanks. About an hour later the company commander called one of the tanks forward. Although the tank was moving slowly, the driver didn’t notice the dismounted Soldiers lying in a ditch about 50 yards to his front. A few minutes later someone yelled, “Stop the tank! Stop the tank!” The driver didn’t know what was wrong, but he stopped the tank anyway. He soon discovered he’d run over and killed two dismounted Soldiers.
The driver hadn’t attended night driver’s training. He also didn’t know his driver’s night sight was deadlined because it couldn’t be focused at 50 feet. He simply assumed that was the way the sight worked. Driving with any type of night vision device is a challenge under the best of conditions, but especially with little or no training and deadlined equipment.
The driver made several fatal errors — mistakes made, however, because he hadn’t been trained properly. A good driver’s training program must focus on all aspects of driving, whether during the day, at night or in between. These programs also must be tailored to the area of operations and include specifics of NVD use and maintenance.
Training with NVDs is a critical component of any driver’s training program, but it’s particularly important before deployment. Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan are driving in some of the most demanding terrain ever encountered. One common problem is depth perception, which is diminished naturally with NVDs. However, brownout caused by blowing dust or other low-visibility conditions restrict depth perception even further.
One possible threat emerges when a highly skilled driver with in-theater experience leads inexperienced drivers in a night convoy. Since the new drivers’ skills are inadequate, they often fall too far behind and lose sight of the lead vehicles. To compensate, the inexperienced Soldiers drive faster to make up the distance and maintain convoy discipline. This is a dangerous game.
The landscape in Afghanistan is unforgiving, and the roads are often narrow and full of unforeseen hazards. Leaders must instruct Soldiers to dismount and ground-guide their vehicles in restricted areas and during periods of limited visibility. Commanders also must establish tactics, techniques and procedures for stopping and transitioning from unaided driving to NVDs. In addition, leaders must brief the transition to NVDs on every mission.
Use Army Regulation 600-55 and Training Circulars 21-305 (wheeled vehicles) and 21-306 (tracked vehicles) to develop a driver’s training program that’s transportable to the theater of operations. Training must include provisions for Soldiers transitioning to driving positions and new Soldiers coming into the unit. Commanders must stay involved in licensing and driver selection, even in the area of operations.
Plan to conduct sustainment training that focuses on the changing environment (both terrain and weather) units will encounter in theater. Sustainment training must be conducted at least once a year. However, with the intensity of deployed operations and the potential for personnel movement, units should plan to conduct sustainment training more often as conditions permit. An effective driver’s training program that includes driving at night and in other limited-visibility conditions will improve readiness and preserve combat power.