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Ground Guiding: The Missing Piece

Ground Guiding: The Missing Piece

Bluegrass Army Depot Safety Office
Richmond, Kentucky

It was the end of a very productive, mishap-free day. We’d completed about 10 building safety inspections, and the clock was ticking closer and closer to time to punch out for a well-deserved weekend. Then the phone rang.

In the safety world, when the phone rings, it’s either the colonel telling us to have a nice weekend, an employee calling to ask a question about personal protective equipment and safety, or a mishap has occurred. With just minutes remaining in our work week, we prepared for the worst.

On the other end of the line was our weapons shipping manager, who was in control of every truck and train that carried weapons on and off the depot. He was calling to let the safety office know there had been a mishap. I wrote down the “who, what and where” and told him we would be there in a few minutes.

The mishap involved a big rig that was hauling a Strad-O-Lift trailer. These driver-controlled lift trailers are a way of life on Army depots, allowing stacked pallets of weapons and supplies to be moved each day from bunkers and warehouses. Occasionally, like any other vehicle, there are incidents that make you wonder, “What was that driver thinking?” This would be one of those incidents.

The truck was lying on its side in a ditch just outside one of the igloos (underground weapons bunkers) where workers had been loading and unloading weapons for processing to the maintenace facility. I immediately noticed two things that truly scared me about this incident: one, the truck wasn’t on the road; and two, the truck was fully loaded with high-explosive weapons. I started my report by taking photos of the area and truck and measuring all of the distances from the truck to the road, truck to the igloo and the depth of the ditch the truck was now lying in. I then wrote out my draft report about what happened, took down the names and statements of all witnesses, and interviewed the driver.

The driver stated that as he backed up, he lost track of where the ditch was on the right side of the road. The next thing he knew, he overturned into the ditch. As I listened to him, I thought, “There are pieces missing from this puzzle.” First, he did not have the required ground guide. Second, it was evident he was in a hurry because he was off work the following day. Finally, he wasn’t very cautious with the load he was carrying.

As I drove back to the office to finally punch out, I thought about all the truckloads of weapons being moved at the depot each day. It occurred to me that none of the drivers actually have ground guides, nor have they requested anyone to help guide them. Using a ground guide would likely have prevented this mishap.

When hauling any trailer with a big rig, keep the following in mind:

  • If you take a curve too fast, you can overturn.
  • If your rear tires strike something (like a curb) while cornering, you can overturn — even if you’re moving slowly.
  • A rig can roll at speeds as low as 5 mph, especially on slopes.
  • A rig can roll if you jackknife while backing up.
  • Many rollovers occur when drivers try to return to the road after putting a tire off the pavement.
  • Treat all cargo like a load of dynamite and drive accordingly.
  • Always use a ground guide!

Remember, big rigs are are not all-terrain vehicles. When you take them offroad, the results could be disastrous.


Using ground guides in congested or confined areas is critical to the safety of personnel and to promote safe vehicle operations. These congested and confined areas are defined as motor pools, construction access sites, assembly areas, bivouac sites, parking areas, hazardous terrain or any other situation where visibility is restricted. Before moving vehicles in these areas, the operator and ground guide should have the same clear understanding of what the hand and arm signals mean. The same applies for use of filtered flashlights or chem-lights in limited visibility. Operators and crews should receive instruction on ground guiding during training events such as driver training, and should receive periodic refresher training to ensure proficiency is maintained. For more information, visit the USACRC website at https://safety.army.mil/ON-DUTY/Government-Motor-Vehicle/Ground-Guiding.

  • 18 July 2021
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 654
  • Comments: 0