A Tragic Ending
COMPILED BY THE RISK MANAGEMENT STAFF
The platoon’s first real combat mission was scheduled to be a nighttime show of force. Equipped with Strykers, the Soldiers were part of a larger unit and eager to get going to prove what they could do. They would be driving down some narrow, muddy roads. Although a few of the Soldiers had been down the route before, they’d been in the back of a vehicle and didn’t really get a good look. The road was bordered by canals and had an 8-foot drop-off on both sides, making the route very dangerous.
Earlier that day, the Soldiers had readied their equipment and lined up for movement. It was still daylight when they began their mission, driving the route over the muddy roads. Darkness fell just as the platoon reached the most dangerous part of the route. Because the road was barely visible, many Soldiers donned their night vision goggles as they moved.
Suddenly, an urgent message came over the radio — one of the Strykers had gone off the left side of the road, rolled over and landed upside down in the canal. What the platoon didn’t know, however, was that two Strykers more than 200 yards apart had gone off the road and rolled over into the same canal. Both vehicles were sitting upside down on their remotely operated weapons systems, with one side of the vehicle resting against the bank. Nineteen Soldiers were trapped inside the partially submerged Strykers.
Both Strykers began rapidly filling with water, which was soon up to the Soldier’s chins. As they stood inside the troop compartment, the Soldiers were afraid the Strykers might tilt and allow more water to flood in. The squad leader inside the first Stryker yelled for a head count. He thought he heard each Soldier yell back and assumed everyone was accounted for. What he didn’t realize was that he heard a Soldier calling out the name of a missing Soldier as he searched for him. The driver, who also was underwater, was having trouble escaping his compartment. Equipment blocked the passageway to the troop compartment, so he couldn’t escape through that route. Ultimately, he got the driver’s hatch open, swam out of the Stryker and then crawled on top of it. There he was joined by one of the vehicle’s air guards, who’d barely managed to get out his hatch after the vehicle overturned.
Inside the troop compartment, the second air guard struggled underwater to open the back door. He passed out; possibly not realizing the door, which would have fallen open were the vehicle right side up, now had to be pushed open. The driver and air guard who’d gotten out of the vehicle opened the rear door, allowing the Soldiers inside to escape. They then climbed onto the road, resuscitated the second air guard, and conducted another head count. Finding one Soldier missing, the squad leader went back inside the Stryker to locate him. He found the Soldier lifeless, just a few inches beneath the water’s surface. His load bearing equipment (LBE) had become entangled inside the vehicle, trapping him underwater.
The water was also up to the Soldiers’ chins in the second Stryker. They tried to open the troop compartment door, which was their only way out, but heard someone outside yelling, “There’s a lock on the troop door!” The Soldiers started to panic, so the team leader tried to calm them and asked for a head count. Two Soldiers — the driver and squad leader — were missing. The driver was trapped in his compartment. Equipment in the passageway leading to the troop compartment blocked his escape. The other missing Soldier, the squad leader, was trapped underwater by his LBE. It was almost a half hour before the lock was cut and the Soldiers could escape. By then, the driver and squad leader had both drowned.
The platoon’s first mission ended in tragedy as three Soldiers died without ever engaging the enemy. It was a high price to pay to learn the following lessons:
- Before heading out, leaders must conduct risk management for the entire mission, to include the complete driving route, to mitigate the hazards.
- Leaders must brief the route to the entire platoon so every Soldier knows the hazards to be faced.
- Crews must conduct rollover drills and ensure those drills are tailored to the mission. For example, if the route follows canals, Soldiers must know what to do should their vehicle roll over and land upside down in the water.
- Rollover drills are important; however, Soldiers also need to practice exiting their vehicle. The Soldiers who died in these Strykers had survived the rollovers, but couldn’t egress their vehicles. For example, had the crew in the second Stryker practiced exiting their vehicle, someone would have noticed the lock on the troop door.
- Soldiers must follow proper load plans, making sure escape routes and hatches are accessible.
- Soldiers must conduct thorough pre-combat inspections on their vehicles to ensure all equipment is serviceable and there are no locks on hatches or doors.
Did You Know?
Since FY16, the Army has lost an average of 12 Soldiers a year to Army vehicle mishaps. Leaders must be proactive in risk management during Army vehicle operations.