Safety Takes a Backseat
NAME WITHHELD BY REQUEST
Movement operations might not sound dangerous, and they’re certainly not all that glamorous. As my unit’s movement officer, I must confess I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of moving our equipment — all 1,500 pieces — from theater and being the last to arrive home. We were redeploying after a year-long tour and all of us were eager to see our loved ones.
Despite our “get-home-itis,” we managed to clean all the equipment in record time with no injuries thanks to the great leadership and supervision of our NCOs. Everyone got on the plane and headed home except for about 15 Soldiers who stayed behind to help load the ship.
We received the last of our equipment at the port the day before our ship arrived. The equipment was mostly ISU-90 storage containers, but there were a few broken vehicles that had been hauled to the staging area by privately contracted civilians. Everything was accounted for except a broken fuel truck, which finally arrived at 2300. By that time, we’d been up for 18 hours and really wanted to get some sleep. Needless to say, we were ready to get the fuel truck unloaded and finish our day.
Since the fuel truck wasn’t operational, the contractors had winched it onto a lowboy wrecker for the drive. Now we had to figure out how to get it off the lowboy. We didn’t have a crane that could lift the vehicle, and it would have taken hours to get one. The contractor driver suggested elevating the lowboy’s platform to roll the fuel truck off the back while another driver rode its brakes. I thought this sounded like a great idea. We even had a sergeant who was licensed and had a lot of experience driving fuel trucks.
Although I was tired, I was still concerned that the truck’s tires might slide off the lowboy’s side as it rolled down the platform. The sergeant got into the truck and gave the thumbs-up for the contractor to lift the platform. Everything looked good as the truck slowly started to back off with its wheels straight, which helped ease my mind a little.
My worst fears were soon realized, however, when the fuel truck shot off the wrecker as its rear tires hit the ramp. I remember thinking, “Wow! This guy really knows how to drive!” That thought quickly faded as the truck kept rolling right through a barbed-wire fence and crossed the street toward our stacked ISUs. Fortunately, the truck’s rear tires hit a cement barricade just short of the ISUs, and the vehicle came to an abrupt stop.
If you’ve ever driven a HEMMT or fuel truck, you can probably figure out what went wrong with our plan. The driver didn’t start the truck and allow the brake system to pressurize, so the truck just kept rolling even though he was slamming onto the brakes. Fortunately, the truck wasn’t damaged and no one was injured.
We were lucky — but we also were careless because we were very tired. I was the movement leader, and I allowed safety to take a backseat to mission accomplishment. Even with high operational tempo, we need to slow down and put safety first.