Always to Standard
1ST LT. MANUEL E. SORIANO
1st Squadron, 18th Cavalry Regiment
California Army National Guard
It’s safe to say that convoy operations are essential for every unit throughout the Army. If any of you are familiar with Headquarters and Headquarters Troop (HHT), 1st Squadron, 18th Cavalry Regiment, out of Azusa, California, then you know convoys are a large part of every weekend drill. Most Soldiers probably think of convoys as just a form of travel that gets everyone from Point A to Point B. What they don’t see, however, is the time, planning, preparation and training it takes to effectively and safely conduct these operations.
As executive officer of HHT 1-18th Cav, my duty is to ensure all trucks are maintained and in proper condition to safely conduct convoy operations. For my Soldiers, it is their duty to effectively conduct preventive maintenance checks and services (PMCS) on their vehicles and ensure load gear, equipment and personnel are in proper condition before rolling out onto the road. When Soldiers conduct enough convoy operations, this process becomes second nature. The danger in this, however, is eventually complacency tends to appear.
Once Soldiers have conducted the same task multiple times, they usually start looking for shortcuts to speed up the process. This is where NCOs and officers must step in. Standard operating procedures (SOP) are established to ensure Soldiers conduct themselves in a safe and effective manner; but when Soldiers try to cut corners, it becomes a hazard. It is the NCOs’ and officers’ duty to enforce and ensure their Soldiers follow all SOPs. Doing so helps mitigate risks and hazards to the lowest level possible.
This brings me to an incident that occurred during one of our numerous convoy operations to a training site. Our unit’s only approved training site is northwest of Azusa at Fort Hunter Liggett. In order for our scouts to get the proper training they need, we must conduct a convoy movement to Fort Hunter Liggett, which usually takes about 10 hours. The Soldiers tend to get fatigued during this movement; and when they get fatigued, they often look for shortcuts.
We began the drill like normal, ensuring all Soldiers conducted their vehicle PMCS and preparing for the 0700 movement. We convoy to Fort Hunter Liggett without mounted weapons on our vehicles. When we arrive, we pull off to the side of the roadway and set up either the M240 or .50-caliber weapons systems as well as the long-range advance scout surveillance system (LRAS). Due to traffic, this movement was particularly long, so our Soldiers were pretty fatigued. Once we mounted the weapons, we continued the movement toward our training site. As we approached the first turn, that’s when it happened.
As the third truck in the convoy made the turn, I saw the two left tires slowly come off the ground and the vehicle roll onto the gunner’s hatch. The rest of the convoy immediately pulled over to remove the three crewmembers inside the overturned vehicle. Fortunately, all three were wearing their vehicle restraints and not seriously injured other than a minor head wound and some bruising. The M240 and LRAS, however, were damaged beyond repair.
As we investigated, we identified what caused the mishap. The Soldier in the gunner’s hatch forgot to lock it to prevent the hatch from rotating. When the driver made that turn, the LRAS rotated to the other side. The weight and momentum of the shifting LRAS was enough to cause the truck to overturn on flat ground.
Even though we had conducted countless convoy operations and the Soldiers knew all of their tasks and responsibilities like the backs of their hands, there’s never an excuse — not even fatigue — for complacency. Most of us have heard “complacency kills.” That statement rings true for the entire U.S. Army. We were lucky on this drill weekend that no Soldier fell victim to that truth. But this incident showed us just how dangerous complacency can be. Soldiers must follow proper procedures and regulations at all times, and we, as leaders, have to ensure those Soldiers are always performing their duties to standard.
Did You Know?
Tactical motor vehicle mishaps are the greatest on-duty killer of the Army’s ground forces. Annual statistics show more Soldiers die in these incidents than any other single category of on-duty ground mishaps. Quite simply, driving — not live-fire ranges, mass tactical parachute operations or other high-risk missions — is the deadliest hazard most Soldiers face daily.
The U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center recently conducted a deep-dive analysis of tactical vehicle mishaps since the beginning of fiscal 2015. The data revealed a "third-quarter spike" showing a sharp increase in tactical vehicle mishaps throughout spring and early summer, but particularly during May and June. In effect, nearly one-third of the Army’s tactical vehicle mishaps are occurring over a mere 16 percent of the fiscal calendar, year after year.
The 3rd-Quarter Tactical Vehicle Spike campaign is dedicated to helping commanders and Soldiers stop these mishaps in not only 2021, but years to come. A wealth of information based on lessons learned from our study and recent USACRC mishap investigations, along with best practices and tools shown to mitigate risk across the force, can be found at https://safety.army.mil/MEDIA/3rd-Quarter-Tactical-Vehicle-Spike-Campaign.