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Unnecessary Risk

Unnecessary Risk

B Company, 229th Aviation Regiment
Fort Irwin, California

During my time at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, I have seen many mishaps and near misses. One, in particular, sticks out more than the others. Here’s what happened.

We were providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support for a rotational unit during daytime operations. The unit consisted of a friendly force element and an enemy force. As we provided route reconnaissance for the friendly force, they pulled off to the side of the road in their security positions to conduct mission planning. When finished, they loaded up to start the operation.

One of the friendly force’s fuel trucks made a wide turn as it attempted to pull back onto the road. The driver apparently didn’t realize there was a big mound of sand between the vehicle and the road and tried to drive over it, causing the crew to get stuck on the berm. A wrecker was brought in to free the fuel truck. However, as the wrecker crew attempted to pull the stuck vehicle forward with a tow cable, they came under attack by the enemy forces.

The enemy forces arrived with armored vehicles and multiple trucks, one of which had a large smoke generator mounted to the back of it. They were using the smoke truck so they could catch the friendly element by surprise. The truck sped around the friendly forces in a circular motion to create a thick layer of smoke — so much so that the driver could not see where he was going.

When the smoke truck tried to exit the area, the driver did not see the ongoing recovery operations with the wrecker and fuel truck — or the tow cable that was stretched across the road. The truck struck the cable, causing it to rip off the vehicle’s hood and roof. The smoke truck’s driver was decapitated. Fortunately for the truck commander (TC), due to the slope of the road, his seat sat lower than the driver’s and he was not struck by the cable.

I never understood the friendly force’s thought process that day. Why did they stretch the tow cable across a main road? The terrain behind the fuel truck was flat enough that they had plenty of room to tow the stuck vehicle by its rear bumper to break it free from the berm. On the other hand, I also believe the enemy force should have come up with a safer plan to distribute smoke in the area.

The lessons learned from this mishap are to always be aware of your surroundings and understand how your decisions can impact personnel and equipment. I think the friendly forces should have placed Soldiers on the road in both directions — safely away from the tow cable in case it broke — to keep vehicles from entering the area. At a bare minimum, they should have used the equipment issued with the truck and deployed the warning triangles to indicate an inoperable vehicle.

The TC in the smoke truck could have done things differently as well. He should have implemented a safer way of deploying the smoke such as driving on the outside of the wrecker and fuel truck rather than directly through them while troops were walking around the area. He also should have been more watchful of his driver’s speed. At the time of the mishap, they were reportedly traveling 50 mph. There was no need to be driving that fast on a tank trial. I believe this tragic loss of life could have been avoided with better leader oversight.

  • 22 August 2021
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 393
  • Comments: 0