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Under the Bridge

Under the Bridge

Joint Force Headquarters
Oklahoma Army National Guard
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Why is it important to know your route? That is a pretty loaded question, both in the military and civilian worlds. Nowadays, it’s easy to determine the best route to a destination, as just about everyone has a smart phone with GPS or a map app. All you need to do is enter an address or city and you will be presented with a few different options on how to get there. Twenty years ago, we had to figure our routes by the old-school method — a paper map. Or, if lucky enough to have access to a computer, you could use MapQuest. However, if you missed a turn or exit, you were forced to pull over, figure out where you were on the map and then get back on the road. It wasn’t always an easy task.

Now, transition this to military operations. What factors do we need to know when driving a military vehicle? For starters, we must know the types of roads we’ll be traveling, as well as their widths, bridge heights and vehicle requirements or limitations. We also need to know our vehicle’s relative weight and height. All major highways have a set height for bridges to ensure normal vehicle loads can pass under safely. On some smaller highways or county roads, these requirements aren’t as regulated. Even if these roads do have a posted vehicle height limit, has it been updated? Factors such as road resurfacing can alter the height limit, so did an engineer remeasure to ensure it’s still correct? These are questions we must answer when selecting a route when traveling in large Army vehicles. I learned that lesson the hard way.

I was the noncommissioned officer in charge of an armory move consisting of packing, loading and transporting gear and equipment to a new location. One of our vehicles, a Palletized Loading System (PLS), was inoperable and unable to make the move itself. The PLS also had a 20-foot CONEX on the back that couldn’t be downloaded, so I called for a wrecker to transport them. The wrecker driver was unfamiliar with the new location and asked me which route he should take. I decided to send him through some small towns so he could avoid the civilian traffic on busier roads.

Just outside Calvin, Oklahoma, there’s a bridge located on an S-curve with blind spots on both sides. The speed limit in this area is 55 mph, and for reasons unknown to me, there is very little distance from the end of the curves on both sides to the bridge. I knew this bridge had a low clearance, but I’d driven a PLS with a CONEX under it previously. What I failed to take into account was the PLS was now loaded on a wrecker, which meant it would need another 2-3 feet of clearance.

As the wrecker drove under the bridge, the CONEX struck the top, knocking it off the back of the PLS. The driver had not slowed before going underneath, which was a whole other issue, so the impact was substantial. While there was little damage to the bridge, the CONEX sustained extensive damage. Fortunately, no one was traveling behind the wrecker, so there were no injuries.

The driver called immediately to tell me what happened. I, in turn, called the highway patrol and my supervisor. The highway patrol shut down both sides of the road to allow us to clear the scene. I learned that anytime a highway is shut down, the governor is notified. Needless to say, we recovered the CONEX in record time.

Looking back on what went wrong that day, my failure to consider the new bridge clearance height for the wrecker, PLS and CONEX was a major contributor to this mishap. The wrecker driver’s lack of knowledge of the route and failure to mind his speed were also factors. But we learned from our mistakes. At the following month’s drill, we had a safety stand-down and ensured everyone understood they must know all bridge clearances, whether it’s on a familiar route or a new one. If ever unsure of the clearance, slow down and take it easy when going under the bridge. It might take more time, but it could potentially save lives and costly repairs to vehicles, equipment and roadways.


  • 12 May 2024
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 216
  • Comments: 0