Mitigating a Mountain of Risk
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 MITCHELL MORSE
4th Combat Aviation Brigade
Fort Carson, Colorado
It’s no secret that the Fort Carson, Colorado, area offers some of the best outdoor activities in the country. Whether it’s hiking, fishing, hunting, snow sports, off-road sports or just sports in general, you can expect to find something you will enjoy. I found my enjoyment in the area’s rigorous hiking opportunities, most notably a 4-mile round-trip trek called “The Incline.” This hike is not for the faint of heart, yet it is heavily traversed by the civilian population. Within 1 mile, it has a 2,000-foot elevation change up a staircase containing 2,744 steps, followed by a 3-mile downhill trail. A U.S. Olympian runner, Joseph Gray, set the record of ascending these steps in 17 minutes and 45 seconds. You can imagine the difficulty of this hike if it took an Olympic athlete that long to travel a mere mile.
My company commander was also well aware of this activity and decided to have a unit organizational day with The Incline as the opening event. The deliberate risk assessment worksheet was completed and the hazards were assessed. The residual risk was assessed to be LOW, and our battalion commander was completely on board, as were the Soldiers. Safety briefs were conducted, as well as general briefs on how to navigate the trail, and communication plans developed. We even planned for our medic to carry her kit and identified additional combat lifesaver personnel as contingencies.
The morning of execution went off with no issues. Everyone made it to the top and was amped up over conquering the hardest mile they ever attempted. The trip back down wouldn’t go as smoothly. This route consisted of sharp switchback turns on loose soil and rocky step-downs. We had several Soldiers get injured while attempting to jog down the trail. The injuries ranged from bruised ribs and punctured palms to rolled ankles. Could these injuries have been prevented?
It is quite reasonable to run/jog the trail if you are an experienced hiker/runner. These individuals know to keep their legs loose and knees slightly bent to act as a shock absorber when descending loose and rocky terrain. I personally believe the jogging posture is easier than walking downhill. Walking causes you to straighten your leg, which is the last thing you want if you lose your footing. On the flip side, if you do fall while jogging, the rate at which your body impacts the ground will likely cause more damage than if you were walking. Also take into consideration that a weaker hiker who has just completed an intense climb probably has “jelly legs,” so walking is probably a better option on the way down for these individuals.
The important risk-mitigating factor here is to know your limits. If you have never been on a particular hike or running path, don’t go all out on challenging terrain. Be deliberate with your footing and keep an eye out for what is immediately in front of you as well as up ahead. When approaching an obstacle in your path, focus on the way to avoid it rather than getting target fixated.
It is important as Army leaders that we mitigate risks associated with both on- and off-duty activities. While we cannot possibly factor in everything that could happen, we must be dynamic in our risk management process through supervising and evaluating continuously. Always iterate this to your junior leaders and Soldiers. Entrust them to do the right thing and address items not in your initial assessment. At the same time, do not hold their hands and micro-manage the process entirely. Risk management is not on just the safety officer and commander/first sergeant. It is everyone’s responsibility, and that is how we can help prevent future injuries.
Most importantly, be willing to have fun and facilitate events with your unit such as the one we accomplished above. It builds unit camaraderie and self-esteem by having the Soldiers endure challenges together. Plus, it gives them a chance to do something fun. Ultimately, they will thank you for it.