Batteries Not Included
STAFF SGT. JIMMY GONZALEZ
U.S. Army Reserve Medical Command
Pinellas Park, Florida
Several years ago, my unit mobilized to the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California, for 30 days to conduct training operations and evaluate readiness. As in any training environment, sleep often fell by the wayside due to time constraints and constant changes to the mission. Like my comrades in the field, I worked long days and endured unusual sleep patterns, so I tried to take advantage of any downtime available and rest as much as I could. As we all know, fatigue can affect decision-making and lead Soldiers to take dangerous shortcuts.
I was assigned as the driver of a M577 FDC tracked vehicle and the backup advanced field artillery tactical data system specialist. Being a driver is not as easy as it seems. My peers trusted my judgment and counted on my decision-making through the different iterations of training. Our entire unit was completing all tasks as expected and successfully accomplishing each of the different planned missions. As our time at NTC neared its end, my crew and I began looking forward to our return home to Georgia.
I believe the most dangerous period during a mobilization is the redeployment phase. It’s at this critical juncture that safety can seriously be degraded — if not ignored entirely — to complete the remaining tasks. It often puts lives at risk. Still, I had the trust of my peers and leaders to accomplish my duties responsibly and, most importantly, safely. Unfortunately, I took some shortcuts during our last night at NTC.
Before dawn, our crew chief ordered us to conduct an inspection of our equipment prior to night operations. I “knew” what to do. I completed my inspection and worked with my teammates to get the rest of the items ready for the move. I then got inside the driver’s hatch and off we went to conduct our duties. As we convoyed through the desert, I had limited visibility using the night vision goggles (NVGs) due to heavy dust. I increased the following distance between the vehicle ahead and myself so I could see its infrared lights. I drove that way for a while when, suddenly, everything went black. I thought my NVGs were not properly secured on my combat vehicle crewman (CVC) helmet and tried to re-adjust them. I also informed the tactical commander of my dilemma.
The tactical commander asked if I could hear him. I replied with the affirmative. He told me he’d guide me through, so I needed to pay attention. Since I couldn’t see anything, I listened to his instructions closely. After a few minutes, my eyes started adjusting to the dark and I was able to identify the vehicle in front of me, but I still required the assistance of my chief. Fortunately, we eventually made it to our destination safe and sound.
Once we arrived, I inspected the NVGs. I released the device from my CVC helmet, retrieved a new set of batteries and tested it. Bingo! The problem was not with the positioning on the helmet, it was the batteries. I’d failed to inspect and replace the batteries the night before. If I had paid attention to details and inspected my equipment thoroughly, this never would have happened.
Upon exiting the compound the next morning, I noticed that the gate the chief guided me through the night prior was surrounded by wire and flanked by ditches deep enough to cause a vehicle rollover. It then hit me how the smallest, most insignificant shortcut — like not checking the batteries in the NVGs — can have a detrimental effect on the mission and place Soldiers in situations where the possibility of a mishap is increased. While the Army can replace equipment, a Soldier’s life is irreplaceable.