MASTER SGT. TOM COLLUM
Jefferson City, Missouri
Before deploying to Iraq, our transportation unit was understrength, so other Soldiers in the state that had an 88M military occupational specialty (transportation) were pulled from their units to head out with us. This caused some unforeseen issues. For instance, when ground guiding, these Soldiers used different hand and arm signals. At times, this could be frustrating.
When working around vehicles, a driver and ground guide must remain alert to everything around them. Due to the noise level of vehicles and other equipment, they must be able to communicate effectively by using hand and arm signals. It’s important everyone uses the same signals so we work more effectively as a team. The best way to accomplish this is to ensure all Soldiers are familiar with the standardized visual signals in Field Manual 21-60.
A driver must always use a ground guide when a vehicle is in a motor pool, bivouac or assembly area, or when backing up. If these areas are tight or congested, two ground guides must be used. This helps ensure the driver doesn’t run into another piece of equipment, a Soldier’s gear or, more importantly, a Soldier. This is why it is very important that the ground guide and driver communicate effectively.
To avoid confusion, it’s a good practice for the driver and ground guide to go over the hand and arm signals before they begin moving a vehicle. All commands should come from the ground guide, who must remain in the driver’s sight at all times. If the driver doesn’t understand what the ground guide wants him to do, he must stop immediately, get out of the vehicle and go over the hand and arm signals again. If the driver can’t see the ground guide or notices he is in a dangerous position, he must stop immediately and get out of the vehicle to ensure the guide is OK.
The ground guide must always stay at least 10 yards away from the vehicle or piece of equipment to ensure nothing will be damaged when the vehicle is in motion. He should never run or walk backward or between two vehicles. When using two ground guides, the driver and both guides must go over hand and arm signals and decide who will be the primary guide. The primary ground guide is the one from whom the driver takes his signals. If there is any confusion or one of the guides can’t be seen, the driver must stop the vehicle immediately to ensure the safety of the guides.
Ground guides are an essential part of safely moving vehicles and heavy equipment. The proper use of ground guides can reduce injuries and accidents in the military.
Ground guides are a vehicle operator’s eyes when maneuvering equipment in areas of limited visibility. Therefore, ground guiding a vehicle is one task where training and coordination between the two is paramount. To help prevent injuries to ground guides and other personnel, follow these simple steps:
• All drivers and other unit personnel will be trained to standard in the correct use of ground guides and ground-guiding operations.
• Always use ground guides when backing and in congested areas.
• When traveling in a field environment during periods of limited visibility, ground guides will be used. Drivers will keep ground guides in view at all times.
• Ground guides will be used in bivouac and assembly areas.
• Two ground guides will be used when vision is restricted. Ground guides should never walk backward and never get between two vehicles.
• During periods of limited visibility or darkness, ground guides will be equipped with suitable lights (two flashlights and extra batteries).
• Ground guides will use hand signals. Voice signals can be misunderstood or go unheard.
• Ground guides will also:
o Keep a proper distance from the vehicle (10 yards).
o Give signals only to the vehicle driver.
o Stay out of the path of travel.
o Stay in the driver’s line of sight.
o Keep to the side and front (or rear) of the vehicle (driver’s side is best).
o Clear themselves, clear the vehicle and, finally, give the command to move the vehicle.
For more information on ground-guiding procedures, see Army Techniques Publication 4-11, Army Motor Transport Operations; Training Circular 21-305-20, Manual for the Wheeled Vehicle Driver; Training Circular 21-306, Tracked Combat Vehicle Driver Training; and Field Manual 21-60, Visual Signals.
A Box of Ground Guides
99th Regional Support Command Safety
U.S. Army Reserve
As a One Station Unit Training private at the Fort Knox, Kentucky, armor school, I was taught how to use hand and arm signals during day and night conditions. Back then, my ground-guiding skills were definitely lacking at best. Eventually, though, my skills improved to the point where I was confident I could help a driver parallel park a tank on Main Street U.S.A. during rush hour. Sadly, it appears ground-guiding standards aren’t being enforced as stringently as in the past.
When I got to my first duty assignment, the running joke was to send all the incoming privates or lieutenants to get a box of ground guides. Since everyone was in on the hazing, this mission sent me from my maintenance team to the commo shop, to POL and then back to the platoon sergeant. In a way only he could, the platoon sergeant said, “My friend (or perhaps a more “colorful” term), there is no such thing as a box of ground guides!” I was embarrassed. I couldn’t wait until the next Soldier arrived so I could continue the ritual.
It took me a few months to realize it, but there actually was a box of ground guides at my disposal — and I didn’t have to go far to find them. They were the Soldiers around me. I could ask anyone for help and they would be more than capable to handle it.
By the time I completed my last Tank Table VIII in Grafenwoehr, Germany, I was at the top of my game. As a tanker in the field, there was nothing more exhilarating (or terrifying) than navigating a tank across 10-plus railcars at night armed with only your training, a flashlight and an impatient rail-meister below. At the motor pool, “dress right, dress” was the standard for all tanks, and it wasn’t uncommon to have your sergeant first class come to your room an hour after final formation to tell you your tank was not on line.
As I transitioned from an active-duty tanker to a postal specialist in the Army Reserve, I noticed a drastic drop in the personnel able to execute ground-guiding operations to standard. I routinely stood behind a vehicle as it was backing up to see if and when I would be noticed. When it was obvious the driver thought he had no use for a ground guide, I would scream, “My leg!” at the top of my lungs to get the attention of everyone around. Even when I got behind a vehicle to be a ground guide, more often than not the driver didn’t understand the signals I was using. I often found myself giving a block of instruction.
I don’t think this drop in ground-guiding skills is due to a lack of training. I think it is more a matter of rusty skills and lax enforcement of standards. Any accident related to the lack of a ground guide is preventable. As leaders, we need to get back to the basics. We need to replace complacency with vigilance.
As a safety professional, I want to make common sense more common. Let’s retrain our Soldiers to do what’s right so they’ll do it unconsciously. Let’s put that box of ground guides in every motor pool, training area and Reserve center.