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When a Good Plan Goes Bad

When a Good Plan Goes Bad


Editor’s note: Gen. George S. Patton once said, “A poor plan executed well is far better than a good plan executed poorly.” So what happens when a designated driver plan goes bad? Chances are it looks a lot like the story below. The names of the Soldiers mentioned have been changed to protect their privacy.

Spc. Tom Woodson had been something of a model Soldier in his unit. A two-tour combat veteran with a reputation of leading by example, he’d won the respect of fellow Soldiers and earned his leaders’ recommendation for promotion. It had been an interesting Friday for Tom. He’d gone on a foot march that morning and then later went before a promotion board. He’d done well on his promotion board and was looking forward to pinning on his sergeant’s stripes. With the world going his way, he headed out in his truck to celebrate at a sports bar.

Tom met fellow platoon members Spcs. Grayson Marshall and Martin Lange at the bar. Martin didn’t drink and was the obvious choice for designated driver should Tom or Grayson need a ride home. When they met that night, Martin didn’t ask his friends for their keys. He decided, instead, just to keep a careful eye on his buddies.

Grayson and Tom had been in the bar playing pool. At some point, Grayson wandered off. Martin checked the area around the bar, its restrooms and the parking lot until he found him. Martin stuck with Grayson for 20 minutes or so, periodically checking on Tom, who was talking to some girls. Sometime later, Martin lost track of Tom. After searching the bar and parking lot, Martin saw that both Tom and his truck were gone.

As it turned out, Tom had left the bar by himself and was driving back to his barracks on a rural road that wound through the mountains. At some point Tom’s truck ran off the road and rolled over. The rollover forces catapulted Tom — who was unbelted — out of the truck and caused severe head injuries. Although he was still alive when medical personnel arrived and transported him to a hospital, his injuries proved fatal later that morning. Ironically, the Soldier who had a reputation for upholding standards on duty let them drop when he shed his uniform. With a blood alcohol content of 0.24 — three times the state’s limit — Tom was far too impaired to drive safely. Dead less than a day after his promotion board, he’d never see the sergeant stripes he’d earned.

Why did this happen?

Accidents don’t happen in a vacuum; the key element is always people. Like many young Soldiers, Tom felt he was indestructible. Having survived combat, he felt he could survive anything. That night probably wasn’t the first time he’d tried to drink and drive, but it was the last. Tom made at least four decisions that contributed to his death:

  • He decided to consume alcoholic beverages.
  • He decided to drive after drinking.
  • He decided to circumvent the designated driver plan.
  • He decided to drive without wearing his seat belt.

What about Martin’s role? The most effective battle buddies for preventing these tragedies are designated drivers who fulfill their responsibilities, including taking away a buddy’s keys before they get drunk. As Martin found out that night, you can’t watch everyone all the time. The price of a letting a buddy slip through the cracks can be an empty space at the next formation.

What about leaders? Regardless how well Soldiers perform on duty, do their leaders know them well enough to recognize if they’re at heightened risk off duty? After all, when does a Soldier stop being a Soldier or a leader stop being a leader? When did the Profession of Arms become merely a 9-to-5 job?

Training, without the discipline to follow it, won’t prevent accidents. Tom had completed unit-, installation- and Army-level training to make him a more skillful and defensive driver. He had several years of experience driving privately owned vehicles before this accident. Tom knew the right things to do — he just chose not to do them.

Bad consequences follow bad choices — and choices are a matter of the will, not chance. Tom didn’t intend to die that night, but he couldn’t escape the consequences of his choices. Consequences are typically predictable, which means most accidents are preventable. When you have to decide whether to ride with a designated driver or drink and drive, what will you choose? Will you be able to live with the consequences?

  • 1 December 2015
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 10370
  • Comments: 0