Set Up for Success
CAPT. BLAKE EBNER
Atterbury-Muscatatuck Training Center
I was just getting into my morning groove as the new installation safety officer. I had my cup of coffee, my desk was organized and I was in the process of conducting my battle rhythm tasks. Then the phone rang.
The voice on the other end belonged to the range control operations master sergeant. “Sir, one of the training units had an incident out by Range 42,” he said. “We have initiated our battle drill and thought you should take a ride out with us to investigate.” I agreed and asked if there were any serious injuries or fatalities. Fortunately, there weren’t.
My mind was racing as I grabbed my investigation binder and headed out the door. What would I find at the mishap site? Which training unit/component was involved? Did the mishap involve a vehicle? Who would be the investigating unit? Was the installation at fault? So many questions for a new safety officer.
When I met the range ops master sergeant, he filled me in on the mishap details and what he thought might have happened. When not serving in the National Guard, he was a police officer and had responded to plenty of accidents. He and I “wargamed” a few scenarios as he described the layout of the range road on which the mishap occurred. I’d not been out to that portion of the ranges since resuming my duties following a deployment, and when training at the installation with my unit, we never utilized that area of the complex. Continuing down the gravel road, we came upon an S-turn jam-packed with installation fire and emergency response vehicles. At the end lay an overturned High-Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV).
As I approached, the first-line leader gave me the mishap overview. The vehicle’s driver and truck commander (TC) had already been transported for medical evaluation with bumps and bruises. Both had been wearing Advanced Combat Helmets as well as their seat belts. Additionally, leadership was notified, and the battalion commander and unit safety officer were on their way to the scene. I thanked the first-line leader for the brief and began conducting my own investigation.
As I looked at the HMMWV, my first thought was speed had to be a contributing factor. The master sergeant and I walked down the gravel road and spotted the point where the driver veered and lost control of the HMMWV coming out of the S-turn, leaving a long skid mark. A second skid mark started at the end of the first, revealing that another wheel had begun to slide. At the end of the second skid mark was the HMMWV. Once my documentation was complete and the mishap scene photos taken, I obtained statements from the driver and TC, provided a copy to their unit safety officer and headed back to my office.
The results of my first investigation as installation safety officer revealed a lack of sleep prior to vehicle operation and speed as the main causal factors. The driver had been on mission for most of the night prior and did not receive adequate rest before resuming duties the next morning. He and the TC were on their way back from the cantonment area when the driver exited the S-turn too fast for the road conditions, lost control and overcorrected, causing the rear end of the HMMWV to swing around as the vehicle pivoted from the front tire. The vehicle caught traction at the end of the tailspin, rolling onto the driver’s side before coming to rest in a ditch on its roof. The driver and TC both suffered minor concussions but were otherwise uninjured.
I was extremely grateful the injuries from this rollover were not more serious. Tactical motor vehicle mishaps are the greatest on-duty killer of Soldiers. Quite simply, driving is the deadliest hazard most Soldiers face daily. As leaders, we’re entrusted with our Soldiers’ well-being, so let’s ensure we set them up for success when they’re behind the wheel. Equipment can be replaced; lives cannot.