Pushing the Limits Safely
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 TYLER BACHELDER
A4/160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington
The sky was clear and a blanket of a snowfall covered the desert floor, highlighting the trees and providing a soft, comforting feel to the surrounding cliffs and mountainside. I felt the cool, crisp air against my face. Everything was perfect. Yet, I found myself inverted, looking at these beautiful surroundings from the five-point racing harness of a turbo Can-Am that was repeatedly rolling in a violent crash. How did I get here?
If you’re looking for a place to plan a quiet vacation, look no further than Virgin, Utah. Nestled just west of Zion National Park, it is the perfect location for camping, hiking and off-road activities as well as home to the Red Bull Rampage, a downhill mountain biking competition that showcases some of the most extreme riding anywhere in the world. The terrain in the Utah wilderness is breathtaking, and I have never seen a better sunset. The reddish-orange sand produces an eerie glow that seems to last all night.
Recently, several friends and I spent a few days camping and enjoying the area’s off-road trails. I had grown accustomed to pushing the limits of a decked-out Can-Am Maverick X3 all-terrain vehicle, complete with a trophy truck suspension, roll cage, full ICS system for your favorite tunes, and a powerful turbo motor. The performance capabilities of this machine were incredible, and my friends and I had been off-roading on trails like this many times in the past. This particular night, however, was different. It would give me a long-lasting appreciation for safety and seat belts that I didn’t have previously.
As cliché as it sounds, I distinctly remember how slowly the events transpired in my mind. I felt the vehicle begin to slide and then overturn after the rear wheels lost traction on the snow. I had no previous rollover training in military vehicles, but being an aviator, I’d attended Dunker several times. I remembered quickly saying over the ICS, “Hands inside! Hands inside!” and placing my arms across my chest, gripping the seat belt harness. As the vehicle tumbled end over end at a high rate of speed, the roll cage did its job beautifully. Despite all of the rocks and debris kicked up by the violent motion, all four occupants were completely unharmed. In what could have been an absolutely catastrophic crash resulting in amputated arms or hands — or worse, with someone dead — everything was fine.
My three friends and I crawled out of the wrecked vehicle and began to assess the damage. We were so incredibly lucky to be uninjured, which I attribute to the Can-Am’s safety features and the fact that all of us wore our seat belts. I am certain that trip would have ended in tragedy had we not done so.
The purpose of this article is not to scare you with gory details of injuries or go through a play-by-play of the events leading to the crash. Rather, I want to communicate to Soldiers that it is OK to participate in higher-risk activities in life and encourage them to utilize the proper safety equipment to mitigate hazards rather than completely avoid them. Engineers are smart. Technology designed to protect our fragile human bodies has been around for a long time. Unfortunately, there are some who still choose to ignore these safety measures. That has to change.
I don’t think leaders need to bar their Soldiers from engaging in “adrenaline-junkie” activities all together. Adventure-seeking young men and women are often the ones drawn to the military in the first place. Instead, we should focus more on relating to these Soldiers in ways they can appreciate and understand. Get to know your Soldiers and engage them. Let them know you care about their safety and encourage them to be smart in their off-duty adventures.