Haste Makes Waste
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 4 MATT LIEBER
3rd Military Intelligence Battalion (Aerial Exploitation)
Camp Humphreys, Korea
It was a warm Baghdad night. I had just finished flying a five-hour mission that included an engagement. From the beginning of the mission briefing to the end of the debrief, it had already been a 9.5-hour workday. To add icing to the cake, I had to perform weekly radio maintenance the following day. I grabbed my personal protective equipment, sighed and walked into the hangar to get my ride (a Gator) and a DC power cart to transport the radios.
I had conducted this task a hundred times and knew loading two radios per aircraft times the 10 aircraft in the troop took about three hours. I was already running late. To make matters even more interesting, the operator’s manual plainly stated you cannot apply electrical power to an armed aircraft. Being a numbers guy, the math came easy: Download and upload 70 2.75-inch rockets and 10 Hellfire missiles.
Armed with my trusty Gator, DC power cart and an automated network control device for encryption, I got to work. The first three aircraft went smoothly. When I looked at my watch, I noticed that if I hurried I would be able to make it to midnight chow. Since I had missed breakfast that morning and flown through lunch and dinner, I was hungry!
While working on the fourth aircraft, my DC power cart suddenly ran out of juice. I had another one available in the hangar, but I had to go get it. I hopped in the Gator, put on my eye protection and Kevlar and hit the gas. The next thing I heard was a “WHAM!” as my DC start-cart flew out the back of my Gator and crashed to the ground. I hit the brakes and turned around to see I had forgotten to disconnect it from the DC power receptacle on the nose of the aircraft. I ran back to the aircraft to see if I had gotten lucky and avoided any damage, but it was not to be. The still-attached power cord had pulled the power receptacle through the sheet metal.
At that point, adrenaline restarted my brain. I notified the crew chiefs what happened and set off across the airfield to find the troop commander and aviation safety officer. Back on the flight line, our command post guard was finishing the radio maintenance. I had some time to consider how I was going to tell my commander what happened. “Hey, sir, I am an idiot!” came to mind, but I was pretty sure he was going to draw that conclusion on his own. The time I spent thinking about it was some of the worst I had in Iraq. In the end, I got lucky. The aircraft damage turned out to be minimal. Instead of giving me the dressing down I was expecting, my commander was more interested in finding out why the accident happened and how we could prevent it from reoccurring.
By the time my troop safety officer completed interviewing me, a few things became clear. First, the demands of a combat environment can be incredibly stressful by themselves. You don’t need to add to them by including self-induced stress in the equation. Skipping breakfast and living off Pop Tarts and Gatorade is not a good option for maximizing performance. Second, scheduling an important task for the end of a duty day is never a good idea. Haste makes waste, and setting up yourself to rush through something is a bad idea. Third, working alone is not a good idea if you can avoid it. Your buddy will see things that you miss and vice versa. Lastly, leaving the DC start-cart in the Gator was an unnecessary risk. Everyone is susceptible to making a mistake, so break the chain of events that lead to an accident whenever possible.