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Lost in Alabama

Lost in Alabama
DAVID BECKER

The thought of getting lost in your home country with GPS and cellphone technology readily available may seem far-fetched and ridiculous. I’m here with real-world experience to tell you that it is indeed possible — and could happen to you.

There I was, a new CP-12 intern in Alabama for the first time in my life. After taking about a week to get acclimated at Fort Rucker, I slowly began venturing out to nearby towns. Dothan and Enterprise were both close and offered several restaurant and entertainment options, and navigation to both cities was fairly easy. As I became more comfortable navigating the area, I decided to venture a little farther to see what else Alabama had to offer. Never did I expect what happened next.

It was a Saturday night, and I was wrapping up what had seemed like an endless amount of CP-12 homework. I needed a break, so I left the solitude of my hotel room to recon the area. I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was going because I knew I had my GPS to guide me home. What could go wrong?

I passed through a few more small towns with nothing of real interest before stopping at a locally owned restaurant for dinner. By the time I finished, it was dark, but I decided to continue my expedition. I didn’t think to ask the people at the restaurant what town I was in because I didn’t care. After all, I had my GPS.    

After about another hour of driving up and down back roads that seemed to lead to nowhere, I decided it was time to head back to the hotel. I turned on my GPS and waited for it guide me back to civilization. Much to my surprise, the GPS didn’t know where I was either. At this point, though, I wasn’t terribly concerned. As a former service member, I’d navigated out of places worse than this. No problem, right? Wrong!

After hours of trying to retrace my path, I was even more lost than before. In addition, I was also running low on gas because I didn’t bother to fill the tank before I left. It was nearly 11 p.m., so everything in sight was closed. (I use the term “in sight” loosely because the streets I was on had no lighting and patches of fog were developing.) It was at this point that it finally hit me that I was in trouble. I hadn’t told anyone where I was going. In fact, no one even knew I’d left. To make matters worse, I was now having trouble getting a cellphone signal.

It was about midnight before I got a signal strong enough to call my wife in Texas so she could Google the area and help me get back to the hotel. (I had to call her because, like most of the other interns, I’d shoved the contact numbers the instructors gave us the first day of class in a folder and forgot about them.) I finally made it back to Daleville about 1 a.m. with only fumes left in my gas tank.

I tell this incredibly embarrassing story in hopes that others can learn from my mistakes. I should’ve never left the hotel that evening without a plan. My overconfidence in my abilities led to a potentially dangerous situation. I also should have told an instructor or classmate what I intended to do that night and ensured I had their contact numbers handy in case of an emergency. Additionally, a map of the area would have come in handy when my expedition took me off the highway and onto rural back roads. Had I completed a Travel Risk Planning System, or TRiPS, risk assessment on the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center website (https://safety.army.mil/), the maps would have been created for me and ready to print. It also would have been a good idea to top off my gas tank before I left post to explore an unfamiliar area.

Probably the worst thing I did that night was rely too heavily on my GPS. I was so confident that it would guide me home from anywhere that I failed to pay attention to where I was actually going. When I finally realized I was lost, I made the situation worse by trying to backtrack with only my rusty navigation skills and memory to guide me. I hate to think of what could’ve happened had I not regained cellphone service or I’d run out of gas in that unpopulated area.

Since that night, I don’t take even the smallest trip for granted. It only takes a couple minutes to step back, do a quick risk assessment and develop and implement simple controls that could mean the difference between a leisurely drive and a nail-biting adventure.

  • 1 April 2014
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 13010
  • Comments: 0
Categories: Off-DutyPMV-4
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