The Long Road Home
SGT. JAMES M. ADKINS
C Company, 2/160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)
Fort Campbell, Kentucky
For service members, the first few weeks of reintegration after a long combat tour are crucial. We have to discard basic actions of doing even the smallest tasks that kept us safe during a time of danger. Surviving such harsh conditions also may give service members a false sense of invincibility. This is why leaders reaching out to service members and emphasizing the importance of safety is vital to sustain the unit’s combat power.
As a young Soldier returning from my first combat tour, I sat through the reintegration briefs my unit conducted and counted down the minutes until I could finally go see my family and friends back home. I had my bags packed, gas tank filled and car fully prepared for the journey. The road home, however, was a long one and would take me two days to get there.
I scheduled an overnight stop just over the halfway point to visit some close friends. Despite the fact that I’d driven all day and stayed up late visiting with my friends, I woke up early the next morning to continue my trip. I didn’t bother to check the weather forecast for the route I was taking through the southeastern United States, which was another big mistake.
I had my music turned up loud as I traveled along the interstate, excited to almost be home. I noticed the road was damp, but I figured it was probably due to a morning shower or the dew. A little farther down the road, the traffic thickened and rain clouds appeared. Then it hit — a wall of water fell from the sky.
The rain was so heavy that I could barely see 30 feet in front of me. The vehicles ahead started to break, so I eased off the gas pedal because I knew applying the brakes could result in my car hydroplaning. As I approached the other vehicles, though, I knew I had to either apply my brakes or risk rear-ending them.
I applied the brake and then I felt it — my car was starting drifting sideways. The side of the interstate was sloped with 50 feet of clearance before the thick vegetation started along the wood line. The rear of the car continued to slide toward the road shoulder before I was sent down the wet, sloping grassy side of the interstate and plunged into the thick vegetation.
I was a little shaken up from the whole event, but unharmed. It took some brute force to get my car door open, but I was eventually able to climb out and assess the damage. Luckily, my car only had a few scratches, but it was embedded in the vegetation and couldn’t be driven out. Although I had to wait a while, a tow truck was able to pull my car out and get me back on the road. For the rest of the trip, I was a lot more cautious and took several breaks for rest and the weather.
After this incident, I learned the importance of making sure all Soldiers take reintegration to heart. If it’s been a while since you’ve driven your personal vehicle, take some time to re-familiarize yourself with it. There is no shame in easing back into it. After all, arriving late is better than not arriving at all.
Wet and Wild
- Prevent skids by driving slowly and carefully, especially on curves. Use a light touch when steering and braking.
- If you do find yourself in a skid, remain calm, ease your foot off the gas and carefully steer in the direction you want the front of the car to go. You must be prepared to turn the steering wheel repeatedly until your vehicle is traveling in a straight line. For cars without anti-lock brakes, avoid using your brakes if possible. If your car has ABS, brake firmly as you steer into the skid.
- Avoid hydroplaning by keeping your tires inflated correctly. Maintain good tire tread. Don’t put off replacing worn tires. Slow down when roads are wet and stay away from puddles.
- If you find yourself hydroplaning, do not brake or turn suddenly, as this could throw your car into a skid. Ease your foot off the gas until the car slows and you can feel the road again. If you need to brake and your vehicle doesn’t have ABS, do it gently with light pumping actions. If your car has ABS, then brake normally. The car’s computer will automatically pump the brakes much more effectively than a person can do.
- A defensive driver adjusts his or her speed to the wet road conditions in time to avoid having to use any of these measures.
Source: National Safety Council