CHARLES CHANEY SR.
Headquarters, U.S. Army Reserve Command
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Author’s note: The Gold Sword is one of the U.S. Army Reserve’s largest exercises. Held at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, visitors have included the Under Secretary of Defense, a few three-star generals and evaluation teams that observe military police units respond to various scenarios. The following incident occurred as one unit was en route to home station after supporting the exercise.
The Reserve Soldiers formed a 10-vehicle convoy and prepared for the lengthy trek back to Long Island, New York, the unit’s home station. The safety officer briefed the Soldiers on the proper military gear required, planned rest stops along the way and the importance of maintaining communication throughout the convoy. However, a problem arose when one of the drivers felt he could drive straight through from Virginia to New York after staying up all night.
Whenever the convoy stopped, the driver never even got out of the vehicle. Instead, he would take a quick nap in the cab. Though his assistant did take notice, he failed to report the driver to the convoy leader. (The assistant may have been intimidated by the driver’s more senior rank.)
After the Soldiers got refreshed and stretched their legs, the convoy was set to continue the drive home. It was at this point that the assistant reminded the driver about the proper military attire required. The driver refused to put on his helmet and instead reprimanded his assistant, saying, “I’m in charge. You listen to me.”
Thirty minutes into the convoy, the driver fell asleep behind the wheel and ran the vehicle into a ditch, where it flipped and became disabled. Consequently, the driver suffered a concussion and was admitted to the hospital. Though a bit shaken up, the assistant driver survived the ordeal in good condition.
During the 15-6 investigation that followed, the investigating officer found that the unit failed to conduct a risk management assessment worksheet and the assistant driver failed to notify the safety officer of the driver’s refusal to get proper rest and wear the appropriate military equipment. The only positive was that no one was killed.
Human performance while sleep deprived is a lot like being under the influence of alcohol. Driving after being awake for 18 hours is equal to a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent — legally drunk in the U.S. — and leaves you at equal risk for a crash. Whether traveling in a tactical vehicle or your private motor vehicle, never ignore the signs of driver fatigue, which include:
- Trouble focusing, keeping your eyes open or your head up
- Yawning or rubbing your eyes repeatedly
- Daydreaming or having wandering thoughts
- Drifting from your lane, tailgating or missing signs and exits
- Restlessness, irritability or aggressiveness
- Turning up the radio or rolling down the window
- Slower reaction times or poor judgment
Remedies to counter fatigue include:
- Getting a good night’s sleep before a long drive
- Pulling over immediately at a safe place and taking a short (15 to 20 minutes) nap
- Driving with a passenger who remains awake and can help watch for signs of fatigue and take a turn driving
In addition, when operating or riding in a tactical vehicle, always wear the appropriate personal protective equipment, including a combat helmet and proper restraints. They can save your life. Through engaged leadership and proper training, we can prevent accidents like this from occurring again.