NAME WITHHELD BY REQUEST
After serving 20 years in the military, I’ve found that, in many cases, accidents and mishaps are due to a lack of situational awareness. It nearly cost me my life during my first assignment in the U.S. Army.
I was a combat medic assigned to the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment and had participated in the Battle of 73 Easting during Desert Storm. I treated and evacuated wounded in a bullet-riddled vehicle and lived through the 100-hour war. Shortly after, my regiment was given marching orders to establish checkpoints and humanitarian aid along the Euphrates River.
Over the next couple of months, we provided medical support to many Iraqi citizens. In every case, I remained cautious of them — feeling they were still a threat. I sometimes wondered, “Does he or she have a weapon or a bomb, just waiting to kill an American Soldier?” I never felt safe unless I was inside the unit compound or in my trusty M113 armored personnel carrier.
Eventually, the peace accord was negotiated and the regiment was given a short timeline to depart Iraq. Our route out of Iraq was pretty much the reverse of how we entered and involved little rest along the way. This meant we traveled west for a time, then south to Saudi Arabia. Throughout the mission, our first sergeant and commander constantly stressed situational awareness and the importance of the buddy system.
Unlike most convoys, where movement is usually single file, we traveled in tactical formations. Throughout the war, I always positioned the vehicle to the left flank of the other combat vehicles. This provided extra protection since there wasn’t much of a weapon system on a medical vehicle besides two M-16s.
Once we made our turn south, our pace picked up to meet our mission timeline. We soon came upon a large assortment of battle-damaged enemy vehicles. As the unit continued its movement, my tactical commander took pictures of the damaged vehicles while I focused on our position and movement.
At the next rest and refueling, the commander came over the net and said we needed to remain focused because there were still many threats out there. We continued the tactical march and soon came upon more battle damage. As I drove, my TC once again began taking pictures. Before long, I was doing the same.
Suddenly, there was an explosion that brought my M113 off the ground and sent a shower of flames over the vehicle. My combat vehicle crewman helmet struck the back and front of the driver’s entrance as we came down and rolled to a stop. I saw my TC lying on the floor of the vehicle and called out to see if he was OK. He said he was fine and asked the same of me. I sat there for a few minutes, making sure I wasn’t bleeding and still had control of my faculties.
Within seconds of the blast, the first sergeant radioed to check on us. We acknowledged his orders and informed him we were both OK. My TC and I then climbed out of our hatches to assess the situation.
While we were busy taking pictures, I had driven into a field of unexploded ordinance. This incident resulted in two damaged road wheels, the driver-side shroud blown half off and four damaged track shoes. Fortunately, our mechanics were able to get us back up in a couple of hours so we could continue our mission.
In the Army, we often hear the saying “Stay alert, stay alive.” On this day, my TC and I failed to stay alert and we’re lucky to be alive. We both lost situational awareness — something that had kept us safe during the previous five months of our deployment. This incident was a wake-up call. No matter how routine the task, never let your guard down.