1ST LT. JOHHNY L. HUBBS III
1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Division
Fort Bliss, Texas
A few years ago, I was a young platoon leader deployed to Mosul, Iraq. One afternoon, after completing a round of checkpoint missions, I heard about a track meet that the forward operating base was hosting. As a hard-charging PL, I took my job seriously, but I also believed in personal downtime.
I’ve always loved competitive running, so I was eager to participate in the meet. However, the meet was that day, and I wasn’t in my best shape because of my unit’s operating tempo. Nevertheless, I felt I could still compete because I’d been a good runner in high school. I arrived at the venue and signed up for two events: the 100- and 200-meter dashes. I had won first place in both of these events at the Mississippi High School Athletics Association Championship track meet state finals a few years prior (cue Bruce Springsteen’s 80s hit “Glory Days”).
The temperature that day was well over 120 F. I think the heat must have got to me because I neglected to stretch and go through my normal warm-up ritual before reporting for my first event, the 100-meter dash. As we waited at the starting line, the official gave the commands, “Runners to your mark. Runners set,” and then blew the whistle. Just like the old days, I started with a commanding lead and blazed down the track. About the 80-meter mark, however, I felt the most excruciating pain I had ever experienced in my life! I knew I’d tweaked my hamstring, but I was able to compose myself enough to limp across the finish line in third place.
I thought I’d only pulled my hamstring, but was I ever wrong! The medics told me I’d suffered a Grade III pull, which meant I tore one of the three muscles in my hamstring. The pain was agonizing. My leg hurt badly just resting it — and even worse when I moved. Before long, I had difficulty walking without assistance, and there was noticeable swelling and bruising. This was devastating to not only me, but also the rest of my platoon. I was out of the fight with a profile restricting me to minimal duty. Because of my selfish behavior and failure to prepare, I left the men I’d been charged to lead without a platoon leader.
With hindsight being 20/20, there were several things I could’ve done to prevent my injury. I should’ve stretched and gone through a proper warm-up ritual. I also should have realized my physical limitations. The bottom line is I shouldn’t have competed. By doing so, I didn’t place the mission and my men first. As good leaders, that’s what we are taught to do.
Now, as a battalion safety officer, I believe I’m in a better position to have a positive influence on athletic events. Implementation of certain control measures can prevent injuries and help avoid mission degradation. Soldiers of all ranks need to understand the risk to mission readiness when participating in sports. Applying the steps of risk management before an event keeps us fit to fight for another day!