Have You Conducted Sustainment Training Lately
MASTER SGT. JOSHUA J. CORNELIUS
Brigade Senior Maintenance Supervisor
338th Medical Brigade
As a career Soldier, I’ve seen my fair share of near misses. Fortunately, I’ve only witnessed a few mishaps, but they all had one thing in common: tactical vehicle operations.
The Army requires government motor vehicle (GMV) operators to be licensed in accordance with Army Regulation (AR) 600-55, The Army Driver and Operator Standardization Program, paragraph 2-2. But more importantly, these Soldiers must also have sustainment training. According to paragraph 4-5 of AR 600-55, this training must be conducted annually for the regular Army and biennially for Reservists. This requirement helps ensure a vehicle operator’s skills remain sharp and have not degraded over time. Evaluation of those skills should be done to make certain quality operators are assigned as drivers. After all, quality is better than quantity. An incident in my unit really helped drive home that point.
In 2009, convoy operations were extremely common for our horizontal engineer unit out of the Midwest. We would run convoys monthly and had zero incidents for more than a year. A mishap in 2011 put an end to that streak. A qualified and licensed operator was driving a tractor-trailer on the highway when his nerves got the best of him when a passing vehicle got too close. The tractor-trailer ended up in the ditch with its 5,000-gallon water tanker jackknifed behind it.
Fortunately, the mishap didn’t result in any injures or equipment damage, but the investigation did find one glaring problem: lack of sustainment training. Even though the Soldier was qualified to operate the vehicle, he had not driven that tractor-trailer combination since initially trained in 2009 other than a short trip in 2010 — but that was on the installation, not the highway. This discovery led the command team to engage a sustainment training program for the company on a birth-month basis to prevent future mishaps.
The intent of the program was to train Soldiers on the systems which they were qualified on during their birth month. Because we were a Reserve unit, the training was compressed to complex systems like tractor-trailers or heavy trucks with trailers. Additionally, each winter, the entire unit would conduct winter operator training, as we were stationed in Iowa and this was a necessary training module.
This incident was a real eye-opener for our unit. It revealed how perishable a driver’s skills can become when they don’t use them, whether it is operating a vehicle off road or in highway conditions. The most important part of that statement is “highway,” as this is where most GMV mishaps occur.
I believe that had it not been for this incident, our unit would have experienced a catastrophic mishap in the near future. Luck is not a control for risk management. In our case, it did buy us some time to develop programs and implement them to reduce the possibility of future occurrences. Next time a Soldier says, “Trust me, sergeant. I have a license,” follow it up with, “OK, but have you conducted sustainment training lately?”