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A Deadly Day on the Range

A Deadly Day on the Range

U.S. ARMY COMBAT READINESS CENTER Fort Rucker, Alabama

Editor’s note: According to the saying, there are no new accidents, just new victims. This is evidenced by the fact that we continue to lose Soldiers to the same types of preventable accidents year after year despite the Army’s best efforts to keep them safe. For example, as of July 1, there have been three fatal training accidents on ranges this fiscal year. The following article provides insight into a fatal range accident the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center investigated several years ago and includes some recommendations in hopes of preventing similar needless losses from occurring in the future.

An infantry company was tasked to plan and execute a squad-level fire and maneuver lane. The company set up assembly and sleeping areas a few hundred meters from the lane. The ammunition point NCO in charge issued live and blank ammunition from the same table, where both types were stored during the conduct of the range. There also were some smoke munitions in the same area.

The company cycled the squads through the day walk-through and blank fires before live fires began. The company commander was the range officer in charge, and the platoon leaders alternated as the range safety officer as their individual platoons went through the lane. Their duties included informing range support of the changes via radio or telephone.

The platoon sergeants and the company first sergeant performed safety duties during the squad iterations, as well as leader and range responsibilities. The company commander briefed each squad at the start point before firing began. The brief was oriented toward the tactical aspects of the lane rather than a general briefing covering both tactical and accidental risks.

As daylight faded, the last few squads cycled through the lane. However, the unit wasn’t pressed for time to complete the iterations. The first platoon second squad received their safety brief from the company commander when they arrived at the start point for their iteration.

The squad engaged the first objective, and the squad leader fired a few rounds from his M4 rifle. One of the squad members ran out of ammunition at the second objective, so the squad leader handed the Soldier a loaded magazine from his assault vest. Another squad member ran out of ammunition at the third objective and was handed the magazine from the squad leader’s M4. The squad leader then pulled an empty magazine from his vest and inserted it in his M4. However, the natural cycling of the ammunition caused a live round to be in the chamber when the squad leader fired at the first objective.

When the lane was completed, the squad leader didn’t clear his rifle properly. The rest of the group did clear their weapons and were checked by team leaders within the squad. However, the safeties and RSO didn’t verify all weapons were cleared. The company commander asked if all weapons were cleared, and the group said yes. The Soldiers then loaded a bus for the assembly area.

Dusk was setting in as the squad arrived at the assembly area, so the company ate chow and began the transition to night-fire iterations. During this downtime, the squad leader had come off the range and tasked a Soldier to install a PEQ-2A laser aiming device on his M4. The device originally was installed on the tasked Soldier’s weapon, an M240B machine gun, which wasn’t to be fired during the night iteration.

The squad leader handed his M4 to the Soldier, and neither performed weapons-clearing procedures. As the Soldier searched for a tool to remove the sight, the squad leader began talking with other company members. The Soldier installed the sight and began looking for his squad leader.

While searching for the squad leader, the Soldier ran into two other Soldiers practicing knife-fighting techniques with chem lights. The Soldier began walking closer to the other Soldiers because he wanted to join the fun. As he approached, he raised the M4 from the low ready to firing position. He then pointed the rifle at one of the Soldiers and, in one fluid motion, rotated the selector lever to fire and squeezed the trigger. The Soldier the rifle was pointed at was hit in the face with a bullet.

The other Soldiers immediately began administering first aid and called range support and 911. However, different company members called 911 and range support at the same time, causing some conflict in response. The emergency responders were also delayed because of problems getting an accurate description of the situation and the Soldiers’ location. The injured Soldier was finally transported by ambulance to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Why the accident happened

  • No one verified an M4 on the range was cleared of all rounds. The loaded weapon was then given to another Soldier.
  • No one verified the Soldiers exiting the range cleared their weapons, resulting in a loaded weapon back at the assembly area.
  • A weapon that was believed to be unloaded was pointed at another Soldier and the trigger was pulled.
  • Procedures violations were allowed to happen within the formation.

Another observation

There was an unnecessary time lapse in the initial calls for emergency care and confusion regarding the information to convey.

What can be done?

  • Unit training must be improved to ensure weapons handling and clearing procedures are followed and enforced at all times. Positive command action should also be taken to ensure proper personnel are selected as RSOs and that these individuals understand their duties and responsibilities.
  • Commanders must ensure all personnel in key range positions are trained adequately to perform their assigned duties. This includes a review of existing local certification training programs and placing special emphasis on RSO duties and responsibilities.
  • Commanders must emphasize how complacency and personal indiscipline can lead to accidents and severe or fatal injuries. They must enforce all applicable weapons-handling procedures and expand unit training programs to overcome complacency and discipline shortcomings.
  • Commanders must ensure range OICs understand their assigned duties and responsibilities and conduct effective preliminary marksmanship instruction before every range. In addition, all leaders must understand and practice risk management.
  • Soldiers at all levels should rehearse the casualty evacuation plan to determine if any shortcomings exist and take measures to correct deficiencies. Seconds can make the difference between life and death for an injured Soldier.

 

FYI

From the USACRC Ground Directorate:

It is imperative leaders at all levels are actively involved in the risk management process and ensure standards are fully enforced. Training ranges must be conducted in accordance with Army Regulation 385-63, Range Safety, and it is critical for commanders to establish range safety certification programs to train and qualify personnel in the duties of officer in charge and range safety officer for firing exercises and maneuver operations in accordance with Department of the Army Pamphlet 385-63, Range Safety.

Key issues to focus on based on recent accidents include ensuring live and blank ammunition always remain separated and Soldiers maintain muzzle awareness at all times. Leaders must also ensure Soldiers of all ranks THINK about weapons safety:

  • Treat every weapon as if it is loaded.
  • Handle every weapon with care.
  • Identify the target before you fire.
  • Never point the muzzle at anything you don’t intend to shoot.
  • Keep the weapon on safe and your finger off the trigger until you intend to fire.

Resources for managing range operations and safe weapons handling, to include privately owned weapons, are available in the Range & Weapons Safety Toolbox at https://safety.army.mil/rangeweaponssafety. The toolbox hosts various references and materials, including publications, training support packages, multimedia products, ammunition and explosives information, and safety messages and alerts. The toolbox also provides links to other useful sites and tools such as Ground Risk Assessment Tool.

  • 1 August 2016
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 2571
  • Comments: 0
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