You are Responsible Too
CAPT. SHELTON D. JOHNSON
177th Armored Brigade Safety Officer
Camp Shelby, Mississippi
Editor’s note: The names of the individuals mentioned in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.
Army 1st Lt. Brock McDowell was preparing for one of the greatest challenges of his life as a Soldier — a deployment to Afghanistan — and decided to take some time off. Even though he loved being with his Soldiers at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, he wanted to take a four-day pass to travel to North Carolina to see his wife, who was expecting a baby girl any day.
McDowell, a platoon leader, mentored his Soldiers and they respected him. Several weeks earlier, he and some of the other Soldiers bought motorcycles with the extra funds they received now that they had been mobilized. They all attended Motorcycle Safety Foundation training — a requirement for all Soldiers who ride — and were counseled by leadership on motorcycle safety.
McDowell planned to take Friday through Monday for his four-day pass. As he got off duty at 4:30 Thursday afternoon, 1st Lt. Gerald Knowles reminded McDowell of a get-together to watch a game that night. Since he wasn’t leaving until the following day, McDowell decided to attend the party and rode his bike. When the game ended, he called his wife to tell her he was headed back to his apartment. As he was leaving, Knowles shook McDowell’s hand and told him to be safe.
Heading home on U.S. Highway 49, McDowell gunned it on a straight stretch of road. As he pushed the speedometer needle past 100 mph, a driver failed to see McDowell approaching and pulled into the road in front of him. The impact threw the Soldier more than 50 feet through the air before he landed on the road, where he died on impact. Tragically, McDowell never took that four-day pass. He’d never see his wife again or meet their baby girl.
McDowell’s unit investigated his death. Some of the answers the investigating officer got during his interviews led him to check out the late Soldier’s social media pages. There, he saw pictures of McDowell performing dangerous stunts on his motorcycle. Most surprising — almost prophetic — were those photos showing him speeding on the same highway where he later died. A person riding in a car alongside him took a photo that McDowell titled, “This is me at 110 mph.”
I wondered who took that picture because they could have helped save McDowell’s life. Instead of encouraging him to risk his life for a cool photo, they could have warned him to consider the possible consequences. Yet, time and again, Soldiers egg on each other to take needless, even deadly, risks just to prove they can do it. Sure, McDowell was responsible for his decision to ride recklessly, but he didn’t make that decision in a vacuum. Others encouraged him.
So, what about you? What will you do when you see a buddy taking needless risks? Will you warn them of the dangers or egg them on to see what happens? Will you mentor them or set them up to be a fallen comrade? The moment you know a buddy is at risk, you’ve stopped being an innocent bystander. You are responsible. You have a choice. Will you speak up?