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What Does It Take?

What Does It Take?
MATTHEW P. KETTELL
82nd Airborne Division Safety Office
Fort Bragg, North Carolina


In April 1989, two Soldiers were killed when they hit an oncoming vehicle. They’d both been drinking and neither was wearing a seat belt. They’d been on their way to pick up a fellow Soldier and bring him back to a party. However, they never returned. What happened changed my life forever. I was their platoon sergeant.

We had just finished several support missions, redeployed to home station and were transitioning to Division Readiness Force 1. It was a Thursday, and we had completed all our inspections and were getting ready for a three-day weekend. The commander gave us our safety briefing. Afterward, I briefed my platoon on the two-hour recall procedures and gave them an additional safety brief. I covered drinking and driving, speeding and wearing seat belts. Also, because we were on DRF 1, I told them not to drink any alcohol.

Despite the brief, I was still concerned about a couple of my Soldiers. A day or so earlier, their wives called me out of concern about their husbands’ drinking and driving and lack of time at home. I decided to have a man-to-man talk with these Soldiers about their wives’ concerns. I set it up so I could talk to them individually at my home. The Soldiers were 19 and 20 years old and had so much ahead of them. One was even going to be a father in three weeks.

On Monday morning, we had a recall formation to test the alert roster. As the squad leaders gave me their accountability reports, they reported two Soldiers missing. The Soldiers’ wives were there, but the Soldiers weren’t. I went to the first sergeant’s office to inform him of the report, but he was with the commander, who asked me to come into his office. He told me the division staff duty officer had informed him that two Soldiers were killed in an accident involving another Soldier’s car. The vehicle’s owner told me my Soldiers had borrowed the vehicle.

The victims’ bodies were burned beyond recognition. The coroner needed to check their dental records for proper identification, but I was 99 percent sure they were my two missing Soldiers. I asked the commander what we were going to do because the wives were at the staff duty officer’s desk wanting to know where their husbands were. As time went by, the wives became increasingly upset. They had not been told the full situation yet, but in time, the dreadful call came.

I often wonder how you tell a Soldier the value of life, the importance of family and the happiness a newborn child will bring. I thought I had gotten through to these Soldiers, yet they died — not in combat, something that might be justified — but in an avoidable accident. To this day I still ask myself, “What does it take?”

  • 1 October 2014
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 10340
  • Comments: 0
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