2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne
Fort Campbell, Kentucky
We were in Mosul, Iraq, with an OH-58D unit. The operational tempo (OPTEMPO) was high due to recent activity in the area and need for constant air support. This weighed heavily on our maintenance crews that were working 12 to 14 hours a day without time off for weeks on end.
We had moved to Mosul from another post a few months prior and set up operations at the south end of the airfield. After being there for a month or so, we moved again farther up the airfield to be on concrete pads and have a more stable area to work on the helicopters. We also set up two small clamshell hangars to conduct our maintenance.
We kept up our missions and the maintenance schedules for the helicopters during the high operational rate. A few aviation safety action messages came down through the production control office regarding the helicopters. We changed out the tail booms on most of the fleet because of cracking near the tail rotor gearbox. This strained the aviation maintenance shops and armament section.
During this time, we had a crew chief working on a helicopter. He was trying to chase down a transmission leak that only showed up when the aircraft engine was running. After shutdown, the air movement and oil viscosity made it impossible to locate the leak. This was compounded by the fact there were several lines in this area that carried the same or similar fluids.
The crew chief looked into the cowling while the pilot ran the engine at normal operating speeds and saw the leak coming from the top of the transmission. A Soldier climbed up the side of the aircraft to see if he could see the leak. Thinking he’d spotted it, he leaned in and accidentally put his head into the rotating pitch control rods. The rods struck his head, knocking him off the aircraft. The force cut the Soldier from his brow to the back of his head. In most cases, victims are decapitated in this type of incident, but this Soldier was lucky. He was knocked unconscious and bleeding, but still alive. He was transported to the medical facility located on the airfield and, once he was stabilized, sent to Germany for further evaluation. After several weeks in Germany, the Soldier returned to theater to complete the tour with the unit. The lack of adequate rest, coupled with the high OPTEMPO at night, contributed to this accident.
During a rotation, you need to keep current on leave cycles, as this will tend to overburden maintenance crews while they cover down for a missing man in a flight company. Night operations are always more dangerous than daytime operations. Noncommissioned officers need to know their Soldiers and, if possible, have two troops present during regular maintenance operations to stop someone who is fatigued from suffering a mishap. Leadership needs to stay involved with their Soldiers so they can recognize when they are fatigued or just having a bad day. “Be, Know, Do” is a critical part of keeping Soldiers safe.