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Closing the Shortcut Road

Closing the Shortcut Road

Closing the Shortcut Road

 

SGT. 1ST CLASS JERRY J. MEJIA
C Company, 1-147 Assault Helicopter Battalion
Michigan Army National Guard
Grand Ledge, Michigan

 

Before I was old enough to drive, I used to beg my parents and siblings for rides to the mall, roller-skating rink and friends’ houses. More times than not, I was told to walk or pedal my bike. When my son turned 16, he had no desire to drive. I could not comprehend it. Why would he not want to drive and be out with his friends? When he started his senior year of high school, however, he wanted to get a job to earn spending money and expected a ride to and from work. He quickly found out that walking to work in the rain made for a long shift in wet shoes. After that, he was ready for his license.

I’ve since learned that my son was not much different than many of today’s teenagers. Thanks to modern conveniences, a lot of them don’t (or rarely) drive and don’t need to. Rather than going to the mall like I did, they can shop online and have it delivered to the house in two days. Various social media platforms take the place of the in-person interaction I got at the skating rink. What does this wave of less-experienced drivers mean for the military?

Most new Soldiers joining the Army National Guard range from 18-20 years old. While many of them do have driver’s licenses, they don’t have a lot of driving experience. Now consider the mission-essential rolling stock we have in the Guard —trucks, trailers, tanks, etc. This equipment has to travel civilian roads and highways to get to unit training sites. Who do you think is driving these vehicles? Commanders trust NCOs to train Soldiers to standard in their military occupational specialty tasks, combat lifesaving skills and warfighting tactics and allow plenty of time for this on the schedule. But are we taking shortcuts with driver training?

When I joined the Guard, I taught myself to drive a massive 5-ton cargo truck on a 170-mile trek to annual training. I made sure I had oil and fuel and that all of the lights worked, as directed by my section chief. I was then handed my new Army operator’s permit. While I had a civilian driver’s license, I’d never operated a manual transmission vehicle. My assistant driver was another E-4 that had been in the Guard a year longer than I. When I asked him when the last time he drove a 5-ton was, he replied, “Last annual training.”

Like any can-do Soldier with a hard-charging, mission-first attitude, I set out on our six-hour convoy north. After about 15 miles, I got the hang of shifting the transmission and the convoy was going well, other than my ears ringing from the loud exhaust. Then I switched to the second fuel tank like my section chief told me to do so I wouldn’t run out of gas. We made it another 40 or so miles before the truck started losing power. I checked the gauges; we had good oil pressure and engine temp and plenty of fuel. The recovery vehicle crew stopped to see if they could get us started again to no avail, so there we were on the side of the road in a non-operational truck. We were assured someone else would be along soon.

Two hours later, we were still there with nothing to do but peruse the truck’s operator’s manual. As I dove into that great, big book of knowledge, I learned something: Flipping the fuel switch on the dash panel just shows the fuel level in each tank; it does not transfer the fuel flow to the tank. I found the mystical transfer valve under the driver’s seat and moved it to the correct position. I then followed the manual’s engine priming procedure and got the truck running again.

When I think back on that experience, I realize driver training shortcuts made my unit an ineffective force. In fact, my lack of training caused us to be a resource consumer rather than a resource provider. This situation was absolutely preventable had I just been trained to standard. I was lucky I didn’t have to do any emergency braking or hazard avoidance maneuvering on that trip. I get a chill thinking about how that might have ended.

Driver training is extremely complex, time consuming, and holds so much liability, accountability and responsibility for a commander. Yet, some leaders still feel that if a Soldier has a civilian driver’s license, they can operate any Army vehicle. This trend of abbreviated driver training seems to be the standard for some leaders to stay on track with their training schedule. Unfortunately, Army National Guard units have limited time to train already — one weekend a month and two weeks a year. Training Circular (TC) 21-305-7, Training Program for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), states, “TC 21-305-7 provides leaders with the tools they need to produce quality drivers. Leaders must emphasize driver training because of the high center-of-gravity, high ground pressure, large size, balloon-style tires, and reduced visibility associated with the JLTV. Because of this, the JLTV demands excellent driver skills and knowledge beyond that of most tactical wheeled vehicles. JLTV operators must know how to operate vehicle equipment effectively in the most challenging environments. Challenge JLTV operators to use safe driving practices and increase awareness for accident avoidance. This TC addresses these important driver needs.”

As the TC says, it is our responsibility as leaders to ensure the Soldiers we put behind the wheel of any Army vehicle have the training that can save their lives as well as the lives of those sharing the road. Some of these Soldiers may have very little experience operating a civilian vehicle, let alone an Army vehicle. We reduce our unit’s warfighting mission by not allowing time for training drivers to standard. When shortcuts become the standard, we NCOs fail our Soldiers and commanders. Soldiers continue to lose their lives in preventable accidents, not just in vehicles but also with other powered and non-powered equipment. I challenge all NCOs to close the shortcut road.

 

Did You Know?

The U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center developed the Driver’s Training Toolbox to assist commanders, examiners and instructors in the management of driver training. The toolbox provides a central location for the materials necessary to establish and maintain an effective driver training program. Check it out at https://safety.army.mil/ON-DUTY/Drivers-Training-Toolbox.

 

 

 

  • 10 January 2021
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 442
  • Comments: 0
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