A Lack of Communication
1ST LT. VANESSA MERY
29th Infantry Division, HSC
Fort Belvoir, Virginia
In August 2017, my unit conducted routine annual training consisting of going out into the field, firing our cannons and moving from one range to another. We had just finished conducting all of our missions and were ready to wrap it up and head back to home station. That’s where the trouble began.
My Soldiers did their usual duties of lining up the vehicles, securing loose equipment and gathering all personnel. With it being the end of the field training exercise (FTX), they were quick to just load up on any vehicle. Luckily, my sergeant was adamant about making sure everyone wore the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), emphasizing the Kevlar helmet above all.
We drove off, maintaining proper spacing between vehicles. One of my section’s High-Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) was towing a trailer with a generator in it, so we’d ensured all drivers were appropriately trained. Not even five minutes into the convoy, however, that vehicle ended up sliding down a hill. The driver of the HMMWV attempted to brake and pulled onto the left-hand shoulder. As he did, the trailer jackknifed, causing it and the HMMWV to overturn.
My truck was directly behind the mishap vehicle, so we were the first ones to pull off to the side and run to the scene. I immediately checked to see if my Soldiers were safe. The driver and co-driver had already managed to cut themselves loose from their seat belts and were uninjured. But it was the Soldier riding in the back of the HMMWV that I was most worried about.
The equipment in the back of the vehicle was flung around everywhere. We immediately noticed there was a piece of equipment lodged on top of the Soldier’s head. Fortunately, he was wearing his Kevlar helmet. After a bit of work, we managed to free him. He, too, was all right.
We thought we’d managed risk appropriately that day by ensuring we had quality drivers, proper vehicle spacing and PPE. But there were some things we did wrong. Our radios were not set up prior to the convoy rolling out. That was something that should have been at the forefront of our convoy preparation. However, because everyone was ready to hightail it out of the field, it was overlooked. When the accident occurred, we had no way to contact the commander or call for help. We’d gotten comfortable relying on cellphones for communication during the FTX. Unfortunately, the accident occurred in a cellular dead zone. That was a big lesson learned.
You always hear about how everyone is attentive at the beginning of an FTX, but, eventually, situational awareness, among other things, tends to fade closer toward the end. Nobody expected a mishap to occur on the 10-minute ride it would take us to leave the field, but there we were. Going forward, I will ensure PPE, vehicle restraints, and established communication are at the forefront of all missions.