Small Step, Big Consequences
SGT. 1ST CLASS CHRISTOPHER LINGO
Detachment 1, Company B,
449th Aviation Support Battalion
North Little Rock, Arkansas
It was February in Iraq, and we were returning from our final mission of the day. As we crossed the wire, we crew chiefs and gunners removed the ammo belts from our 240H machine guns and then let the weapons fall forward, muzzle down, prior to landing. After landing and shutdown procedures were completed, we began performing our checks on the aircraft for the next day’s mission.
We were a two-ship mission, and another gunner and I were in Chalk 1. In Chalk 2 was a new gunner we were training and our unit’s standardization instructor (SI). The SI disembarked the aircraft from the right and made her way to the left side. Remembering the rules — muzzles down and stowed — the new gunner, while still seated in the left side of the aircraft, brought his weapon up just as the SI crew chief made her way to his side. The SI was struck in the left eye. Being only 5 feet tall, she had been almost eye level with the weapon.
The muzzle tip tore the SI’s eyeball, and the shock and pain caused her to pass out. Medics were immediately called and transported her to the troop medical center, where they performed an overall check. The doctors found nothing else wrong with the SI other than her eye injury and applied a dressing and put her on bed rest.
At first, the physician’s diagnosis was a small tear on the SI’s iris going down to the white part of her eye. As the days went on, however, her eye got worse. The Iraq environment, with nearly constant blowing sand, did not help matters. After a week, the doctor decided the SI needed to be medically evacuated to Germany for further evaluation. There, she received stitches on her eye and was later medically evacuated back to the United States for further treatment.
At the time of the mishap, we’d only been in country about three weeks. We didn’t hear too much about the SI’s condition until we left Iraq in November of that year. Once we arrived home, we heard she had suffered 80% vision loss and underwent multiple surgeries. For whatever reason, she had also suffered partial hearing loss due to extensive nerve damage to her eye and started having problems with her equilibrium. She had to use a cane and service dog due to all the issues she sustained. She also could no longer drive a vehicle.
Today, the SI is doing better. She still has her hearing and vision loss, but her balance issues were resolved. She no longer needs a cane for assistance, but she still has the service dog. She was medically discharged from of the Army after nearly a year of being in the Warrior Transition Unit while she underwent medical treatment.
Prior to her deployment, the SI worked at the Army Aviation Support Facility and had a promising career. Now she is on medical disability and her future plans have drastically changed. Although this mishap could have had a much worse outcome, the SI is still able to live a relatively normal life.
This mishap was a reminder that we must always be aware of our surroundings. We must also ensure all standard operating procedures are being followed, especially when a weapon is involved. This incident could have easily been prevented by making sure the gunner knew to keep the weapon in the stowed position until exiting the aircraft for weapon removal. It was a small step to overlook, but the severity of it was costly — not only to the unit and its mission, but more so to the injured Soldier.