Better Safe than Sorry
MASTER SGT. GILBERT GALMAN
302nd Transportation Battalion
Fort Shafter Flats
It had been a long day in the field. My unit was taking part in a combat support training exercise (CSTX) on Fort Hunter Liggett, California, and I was now on my way back to cantonment. As I drove down the single-lane highway, I spotted an M997A Field Litter Ambulance (FLA) approaching ahead. Suddenly, the FLA’s right-front end collapsed and the wheel disconnected from the hub assembly. The vehicle barreled through the wire fencing on the roadside at about 35 mph and skidded nearly 200 meters before coming to a stop.
I made a quick U-turn, parked about 10 feet behind the downed FLA and turned on my hazard lights to warn any approaching motorists there was an accident ahead. When I reached the vehicle, I found the four Soldiers inside were safe — just a little rattled by their close call. All were wearing their required personal protective equipment and seat belts.
After confirming no one was seriously injured, I called for recovery support. The FLA was practically new with less than 200 miles on the odometer, so everyone was in disbelief over what occurred. As I sat there with the Soldiers waiting for recovery, I started asking questions, trying to get a handle on what may have caused this freak accident.
I glanced at the dismantled wheel assembly and noticed there was no lubrication on the bearings and hub. This made me wonder whether the Soldiers conducted their preventive maintenance checks and services (PMCS) on the vehicle prior to their mission. If not, why was this vehicle in service? Even more concerning, how many of these same vehicles were operating on the road without proper PMCS?
After an hour of waiting on the roadside in the hot sun, recovery support arrived with an M988A4 wrecker. A Soldier from the 423rd Transportation Company and a safety NCO with the 91st Training Division began investigating how the mishap happened. Immediately, they determined the root cause was failure to conduct PMCS. Because PMCS was not conducted prior to the mission, no vehicle deficiencies were ever found and annotated. That theory, like I’d concluded earlier, was about to be proven true.
I asked the Soldiers in the FLA who conducted the vehicle PMCS — to which the driver responded, “No one.” According to the Soldiers, because the FLA was delivered to the unit brand-spanking new and only used during a recent CSTX, it should have been ready for their mission. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
In the end, no one was injured and the damage to the FLA’s hub assembly and front end was minor. The wire fence was also damaged, as was a portion of the roadway where the hub assembly dragged across the asphalt. However, this incident could have been so much worse. After the vehicle’s wheel disconnected from the hub assembly, it rolled about 300 meters down the road. It was a blessing that it didn’t collide with any oncoming vehicles.
These Soldiers learned an important lesson that day: never assume. If you aren’t sure whether PMCS was conducted on a vehicle or other piece of equipment, go ahead and do it. It’s better to be safe than sorry. It may save your life and the lives of your fellow Soldiers.