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What was He Thinking?

What was He Thinking?

18th FIRES Brigade
Fort Bragg, North Carolina

Author’s note: The last thing any leader wants to get is a late-night call on a weekend. Usually, the news isn’t going to be good.

It was a Friday about 10 years ago when I got a late-night call from my commander. He told me one of our Soldiers had been killed in an automobile accident in Indiana. He said the Soldier had been riding with a drunk driver who’d crashed into another vehicle. Sadly, our Soldier was unbelted, thrown from the vehicle and killed.

Any fatality is a tragedy, but the timing of this Soldier’s death was particularly bad. Our unit had been scheduled to deploy from Fort Bragg to Iraq in about a week, but our departure was pushed back another week as we awaited new flight plans. We’d been on block leave and, during this delay, our commander ordered everyone to remain in the local area and to limit themselves to two drinks a night.   

When I got the news about the Soldier’s death it sent a chill through me, along with other emotions I can’t really describe. I started to think about “why?” The first thing that came to mind was, “What was he thinking?” He was a single Soldier who lived in the barracks. He had a few friends, but didn’t hang out a lot and had just gotten back from home. He was a very religious kid and I can’t remember anybody saying anything bad about him. He kept pretty much to himself and wasn’t a regular drinker.

His trip home had been draining for him and his family. Emotions were high and his family was eager for the deployment to be over and him to return home safe. Now, someone was going to have to call and inform them he died in an auto accident before even leaving the country. And when his family asked about the details, they would have to hear the depressing news that he’d violated orders, was on an unauthorized pass, drinking underage and not wearing his seat belt.

As hard as it was, the commander brought in the unit on Saturday and informed everyone about the Soldier’s death. I will never forget the expressions I saw on the faces of his fellow Soldiers.

Shortly afterward, our unit deployed to Iraq and performed our mission of convoy security. During the year we were there, we traveled more than a million miles. We endured improvised explosive device attacks, missile attacks and close-range gun battles — all without losing a Soldier in combat. Still, our mission wasn’t a total success. We’d lost a Soldier — one who never even made it into combat.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the pre-deployment phase or in the middle of a deployment; it is all part of the mission. A Soldier lost is a Soldier lost and that affects the unit’s mission, not to mention the Soldier’s family and his friends in the unit. When you consider more Soldiers are lost to off-duty accidents than to combat accidents, those losses cannot be taken lightly.

If you drink and drive or ride with someone else who does, it’s time to wake up and ask yourself, “What am I thinking?” Consider how badly you want to live, to survive the dangers of combat and come home to your family and friends. Then remember the first part of coming home is not getting killed before you deploy.

  • 1 February 2016
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 1435
  • Comments: 0
Categories: Off-DutyPMV-4