ROBERT A. CASILLAS
MCB Camp Pendleton, California
Everyone in the military has their own reasons for joining. I volunteered because I needed to support my growing family. I almost ended my life and military career at age 19, however, when I — like so many Soldiers before and after me — rolled a HMMWV.
I was a junior enlisted Soldier and driving instructor for HMMWVs and 5-ton trucks. I’d been training personnel for about 18 months without an accident and I got somewhat overconfident and complacent — even a little cocky. On one particular day, I decided to try something different while demonstrating the HMMWV’s off-road capabilities to a group of students. What I didn’t realize, however, was “something different” and “off-road” together can be a potent mix for disaster.
I was bored of the same old routine, so I steered the HMMWV to an unfamiliar area, intent on impressing my students with my amazing driving skills. It wasn’t long before I had that HMMWV wide open, but a 6-foot drop on the other side of a hill brought us to an abrupt stop. The HMMWV did a nosedive and rolled before coming to rest on its roof. My passenger and I were hanging from our seat belts upside down, somewhat stunned, but thankfully alive.
I was extremely fortunate we weren’t severely injured. The skin over one of my kneecaps was peeled back and exposed the bone beneath, so I spent a day in the hospital getting stitches and another 18 hours on bed rest. Most of that time was spent thinking about what could’ve happened and what repercussions the accident would have on my career. I thought I’d have to pay for the HMMWV damages and lose some rank for sure. Fortunately, neither happened, but I did learn some valuable lessons that day.
If it hadn’t been for our seat belts, both my student and I could’ve been thrown around inside or ejected from the HMMWV during the rollover. Either way, we probably would’ve been seriously injured or killed. Hanging upside down from a seat belt is no fun, but it’s a lot better than being paralyzed or dead. Also, speed limits and driving ranges are established for a reason. I knew speeding in a HMMWV was dangerous, especially on unfamiliar grounds, but I wanted to inject a little excitement into a job I felt had become too boring. Believe me, there are better ways to get an adrenaline rush than a HMMWV rollover. Don’t try it!
Back then, I really wasn’t concerned with risk management. However, if I’d used it, stayed on familiar terrain and kept the HMMWV at a safe speed, I wouldn’t have been sweating later over how I was going to take care of my family. Familiarize yourself with the risk management process and apply it to all your activities, whether you’re training at home, conducting missions in theater or blowing off steam during your downtime. Your unit and your family are relying on you to make it home safely.
Now that I’m a little older, I can look back and see the dumb things I did. At 19, I was unstoppable — there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do. Of course, I was wrong. Learn from my mistake and don’t let overconfidence or cockiness cloud your judgment. Your next good time could be your last!