LT. COL. BEN BRADLEY
Joint Forces Headquarters-Florida
St. Augustine, Fla.
In late 1992, a young staff sergeant named Johnson died in a motorcycle accident. He had owned the motorcycle only four days. If we knew then what we know today, could this Soldier’s death have been prevented?
Johnson joined the National Guard unit I was in shortly after he left active duty. We worked together in the S-2 office, and through the short time I knew him, he impressed me with his knowledge and leadership abilities. He was an excellent NCO who had everything going for him. A Desert Storm veteran, Johnson was married, enrolled in college and had a good job on the side. He was enjoying life and had a bright future. All of that would change in a matter of days.
One Friday night during a drill weekend, Johnson mentioned he had bought a motorcycle two days prior. He was truly excited about the purchase and wanted to bring it in the following day for all of us to see. The next day, as we were looking at the motorcycle, he mentioned how fast it would go. This alarmed me. I remember telling him it was a cool bike, but to please be careful on it. And that was it. That was all I said or did.
A day later, Johnson was dead. He had been traveling home from drill on a two-lane road and was in the process of passing a car when another vehicle pulled onto the road in front of him. Johnson collided with the car and was thrown from the motorcycle. He initially survived the accident, but died from his injuries shortly afterward. It was a tragic loss for his family, as well as the Army.
So, is there anything we could have done differently back then to prevent this accident? Honestly, I don’t know. I can’t attribute the accident to a poor safety culture. The unit we belonged to had a strong safety program and good leadership. I feel like we were well trained in the safety programs and hazards that were known at that time. I don’t recall an emphasis being placed on motorcycle safety as it is today. Regardless, if I remember correctly, Johnson was wearing a helmet and estimated to be traveling only slightly above the speed limit, so I don’t think anyone would say he was riding recklessly.
As for me, did I fail by not doing more? When I look back, I certainly wish things would have turned out differently and that I could have done something to prevent the accident. But I think I reacted in the way I was trained for that period. Let me explain. The Army Safety Program has changed since 1992. I believe that we, as an organization, now do a much better job identifying hazards and developing controls than we did back then. The technology afforded to us today through computers and the Internet allows the Army to capture accident data, track trends, disseminate accident data and develop controls much better than we did in 1992. For example, we all know today that accidents involving motorcycles are a leading cause of off-duty deaths of Soldiers.
Nowadays, we also have better safety training, such as the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Basic RiderCourse
, as well as Motorcycle Mentorship Programs. These programs were developed for a reason. Additionally, changes to regulations that make MSF training and PPE mandatory for riders both make a difference in keeping Soldiers safe. The Army deserves kudos for looking for trends, developing controls and implementing risk management programs.
If we could go back to that day in 1992 with all the knowledge and programs we have today, Johnson might still be alive. Somewhere through the process of completing all of the mandatory training and safety briefings, he may have become a better rider. We will never know.
As for me, I think I am better today at recognizing hazards through risk management training. I would definitely do things differently if I could go back in time. Unfortunately, neither Johnson nor I will have a chance to do things over.