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A Shortcut to Failure

A Shortcut to Failure


Editor’s note: The names of the individuals mentioned in this article have been changed to protect their privacy.

It was a typical multiple-unit training assembly five-drill weekend. The unit had planned a battalion field training exercise at an area a little over an hour away. Like most drill weekends, everyone seemed to have too much to do and not enough time to get it all done. At least the weather was clear, even though it was cold. The training schedule called for the unit to get all the vehicles dispatched, loaded and marshaled on Friday evening. The first serial of the ground convoy was due to depart early the next morning.

The Class III/V (fuel and ammunition) platoon sergeant wasn’t looking forward to this FTX. His platoon leader was new and providing more distractions than leadership. He thought about the lack of qualified personnel in his platoon, especially in the ammunition section. He had more vehicles than any platoon in the company, but he wasn’t sure if there were enough drivers to get them all to the field site. He also was concerned about his new ammunition squad leader, Sgt. Lammon. Lammon wasn’t a bad NCO. He was just inexperienced and had a tendency to procrastinate. “Well,” the platoon sergeant thought, “I’ll just have to light a fire under him this weekend.”

The platoon sergeant met with his squad leaders and briefed them on the tasks they had to accomplish that night. He then went over the timeline for the rest of the weekend, stressing the commander’s emphasis on making the convoy start time.

The motor pool and armory were beehives of activity that evening. The fulltime staff had dispatched many of the vehicles already, but some were left for Saturday’s departure. There also was a great deal of equipment to load. Serial commanders received their convoy briefs and prepared themselves to brief their own serial the next morning.

In an area outside the motor pool, Spc. Downey was conducting maintenance checks on the 11-ton ammunition trailer he’d be pulling with his HEMMTT. Downey loved driving the big truck. The feeling of power he got from sitting high above the traffic with the roar of the giant diesel behind him was one of the reasons he stayed in the Guard. He was a good driver, and he was proud of his skill in maneuvering the eight-wheeled truck with its long trailer.

Downey carefully went around the trailer and checked the tires. The left-rear tire looked a little low. He thought about the amount of time it would take to get an air compressor. The motor pool was a madhouse with the whole battalion running around. He decided the tire was low because of the cold weather. His car tires sometimes looked low on cold mornings and they were always fine. “It’ll be OK,” Downey thought as he finished the checks.

After formation the next morning, Lammon briefed his squad on the updated timeline he’d just received. The ammunition section would be departing in about two hours, so he told everyone to recheck their vehicles and pick up their MREs for the day. Lammon wanted to be sure his squad left on time. The platoon sergeant had made it clear that being late was a bad thing.

Downey went to his truck and did a quick walk-around to ensure all the air hoses were installed correctly. As he walked around the trailer, he noticed the left-rear tire was completely flat. He silently hoped the motor pool still had the air compressor out where he could use it. As Downey looked closely, however, he saw something he’d missed the night before — a bolt head sticking out of the tire.

Downey was in trouble now. There wasn’t much time and he was going to have to mount the spare. Sgt. Lammon was going to be upset. Downey looked around and saw Pfc. Reames driving the platoon’s 4K rough-terrain forklift, carrying a pallet of fuel hoses to a 5-ton truck. “That’s it,” Downey thought. “I’ll get Reames to lift the corner of the trailer with the forklift while I change the tire.” Using the forklift would allow him to change it quickly and without having to use the cumbersome jack.

Downey called Reames over, and they soon had the forklift positioned. Lammon walked over and asked what they were doing. He was livid Downey had not dealt with the problem tire the night before, but he knew they were running out of time. When Downey explained how he could change the tire using the forklift, Lammon knew it wasn’t the right way to do it. But what could it hurt? The forklift easily could lift the weight. Lammon told them to get the tire changed, but to be safe doing it. He then walked away to look over the rest of the squad.

Downey ground guided Reames so he’d place the forks under the trailer evenly. The forks kept hanging on something under the trailer, so Downey yelled for Reames to stop. Downey climbed between the forklift and the trailer to see what was catching the forks. As Downey stood between the forks, Reames’ foot slipped off the clutch, killing the engine as the machine lurched forward.

Downey screamed as the forklift pinned him between the trailer and the forks at hip level. As Reames restarted the engine and backed away, Downey passed out and fell to the ground. The local fire and rescue unit carried Downey to the emergency room. He was lucky. The impact only chipped a small piece of bone from his hip. Other than some serious bruising, he had no other injuries.

The unit learned a lot from this incident. A good Soldier did something he knew wasn’t right to get the job done quickly. His squad leader, who also knew the correct way to change the tire, condoned the shortcut to stay on the timeline.

Shortcuts provide positive reinforcement because people usually aren’t hurt when they use them. How many times do you speed in traffic to save a little time? Do you have an accident every time you speed? No, and that makes you feel the shortcut is worth the risk. Not following proper procedures will not cause an accident every time, but are you willing to risk your Soldiers’ lives to save a few minutes?

Soldiering is a dangerous profession; shortcuts and not following the standards make it even more so. If you are a leader, demand your subordinates follow and learn the proper procedures for their jobs.

  • 12 June 2016
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 1341
  • Comments: 0