PCCs PCIs Save Soldiers Lives
NAME WITHHELD BY REQUEST
The mission called for a patrol of four M1151 HMMWVs to move from the company forward operating base (FOB) to our mentoring location at Regional Command North. The Alpha section vehicles were 12 and 16; Bravo section’s were 11 and 17. The patrol began as planned. We conducted pre-mission planning, our operations order, pre-combat checks (PCCs), pre-combat inspections (PCIs), and headed out without incident. We were scheduled to travel 62 miles west to mentor an Afghan National Police (ANP) kandak (battalion) for three days. On a good day, this was a four-hour drive — 30 miles on a paved road and 30 miles unpaved, when the terrain turned to gravel, then dirt and then to a “general direction.”
We’d been in country six months and had three more to go. Direct-fire actions had been limited, and the biggest threat we faced was indirect fire and accidents. Up to that point, our ANP mentoring could be described as two steps forward, one step back; but all in all, we were making progress. Our operations order called for us to rendezvous with a two-truck ANP element just before the paved road ended. We would then proceed on the final leg with one ANP truck in front and one in the rear. While not complacent, we were confident in our abilities. Truck commanders were calling out choke points and turns, gunners were scanning for threats, and I, the platoon sergeant, was satisfied.
As we continued on our convoy, 11, which was third in order of movement and towing a trailer, swerved left on the new pavement. When the truck entered the left lane, I saw the obstacle the driver was avoiding, a long-gone jingle truck. We followed 11 into the left lane as the driver swerved back, dropping a trailer tire off the right edge of the pavement. Suddenly, the trailer slid right and the HMMWV slid left. The driver reasonably compensated to the right to stop the slide, and the trailer popped back onto the pavement. The trailer then began to slide left as the HMMWV slid right.
As I write this, I can still picture the event clearly. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. The mishap HMMWV was only traveling 45 mph when the slide started, and the driver slowed as he tried to recover. His final maneuver was an attempt to correct back to the left. That’s when physics took over and the HMMWV rolled three times on its long axis. It was a terrifying sight.
The turret was ripped from the vehicle during one roll, and I knew I had just lost at least one Soldier. Eventually, the HMMWV stopped rolling and landed on its side. The trailer landed on its wheels — jackknifed and facing the opposite direction. We stopped our vehicle immediately, blocking the road, and called, “11 has rolled. Stop. Establish security. More to follow!”
I dismounted my vehicle with a medic and rushed to the damaged HMMWV. What we found amazed me. The gunner was in the back seat and everyone was conscious with no apparent major injuries. The medic evaluated the passengers while I established local security and updated the platoon leader. While the gunner was not injured seriously, he did complain of a possible neck injury, so we initiated medevac procedures. Our Pathfinder team established a hasty PZ while we spun up the 9-line. Security was improved and we updated the tactical operations center on what happened. Once the medevac was complete, the FOB sent a recovery team with additional security. We then returned to base. Fortunately, we never encountered enemy action.
I share this story for this reason: I have uttered the phrase, “PCCs/PCIs, give me an up,” as often as many of you have. I know what each check and inspection is and I have every intention of accomplishing my role as the platoon sergeant in the PCC/PCI cycle. What I cannot say is what PCI I conducted that day. I normally pick one or two items to PCI prior to starting point. I try to alternate the items and make on-the-spot corrections. On this day, I was very satisfied with my NCOs and Soldiers mission preparation. What I did not do, though, was check the straps on the ammo cans. I also did not inspect the gunner’s restraint systems. I’d become complacent to checking those items.
It’s obvious my NCOs and Soldiers accomplished those tasks. I cannot imagine the centrifugal forces that the gunner and the restraint system withstood. I just know he was still in that truck because someone did their job. After the shock of seeing the gunner alive, I noticed how clean the inside of the mishap HMMWV was. All of the required items, ammo, combat lifesaver equipment and radios were strapped down, exactly as they were in my truck.
Without the Soldiers conducting PCCs on the gunner’s restraint system, he would have been thrown from that truck. Without the Pathfinder team leader conducting PCCs on his supplies, the PZ would have still happened, but probably slower and not as efficiently. Without the team squad leaders conducting PCIs on their trucks and load plans, I can only imagine the outcome of the rollover, as every truck carried a double basic load for all weapons systems. Without PCCs and PCIs, the radios would not have been preset to platoon, company and medevac frequencies. Without PCCs and PCIs, security would not have been established so quickly. PCCs and PCIs work. Don’t let them just become a phrase you say before a mission. They will save your Soldiers’ lives.