CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 SCOTT KUHN
Fort Riley, Kansas
Prior to our 2008 deployment to a small fire base in Iraq, our unit was told we’d be getting three M114 HMMWVs equipped with the Automatic Fire Extinguishing System. Since no one knew anything about the AFES, we were given a nice PowerPoint presentation to explain the system’s capabilities. While the presentation was informative, it later became apparent that a few of us didn’t pay close attention to it.
Shortly after our arrival in Iraq, we received our vehicles and operations continued as normal. Just two weeks later, we received a message that we needed to return the HMMWVs the following Monday for our new MRAPs. When Monday arrived, we had our small convoy ready to roll down to the motor pool, which was only about three minutes away. Along the way, curiosity got the best of one of the drivers.
On the driver’s side of the HMMWV, there was a manual AFES discharge switch in case the system didn’t come on after detecting a fire. A Soldier decided he wanted to see what happened when the switch was activated. As the truck commander talked on the radio, the Soldier flipped the switch, causing the AFES to go off inside the vehicle. The HMMWV was immediately filled with the fire-suppression agent, forcing the Soldier to bring the vehicle to an abrupt stop so he and the TC could egress. It took both Soldiers about 15 seconds to exit the vehicle, at which point we took them to the troop medical clinic to get checked out.
At the time, no one knew what had happened and assumed the AFES malfunctioned. Upon further investigation, however, we learned the Soldier had flipped the switch out of curiosity. When asked why he did it, the Soldier answered, “I didn’t know it would do that.” We realized then that he wasn’t paying attention to the AFES presentation we’d been given a few weeks earlier.
You would assume the Soldier would have used a little common sense and not flipped a switch when he had no idea what the results would be. After all, most of us wouldn’t stand next to a building’s fire alarm and say to ourselves, “I wonder what would happen if I pulled this down?” and then actually do it. I would expect something like that from a toddler, but not a young adult.
Prior to any deployment, the Army bombards Soldiers with multiple classes that give us a basic understanding of the equipment we are about to use. Unfortunately, much of this training comes by way of the dreaded “death by PowerPoint” style that numerous organizations have adopted. With this style, some people lose interest on what the instructor is saying after the first five minutes. And even if there is a hands-on portion to the class, the unit needs to conduct follow-up classes to ensure Soldiers remain skilled. A lot of times, for one reason or another, that doesn’t happen.
The Soldier involved in this incident was fortunate that this lapse in judgment didn’t end with an accident or injuries. In the end, he learned an important lesson about why it’s always important to pay attention, no matter how boring the training may seem.