2018-11-30 / Viewpoint

Covering all of the bases

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Ryan Runk
Joint Forces Headquarters, Utah

Being in the National Guard, I’ve seen the emphasis placed on private motor vehicle (PMV) safety because of the vast distances some Soldiers must travel to and from drill. I’ve also noticed how that emphasis shifts when those same Soldiers are placed on orders at an armory or in the field for an extended period versus traveling daily to and from training.

It’s easy to understand why a safety program would tailor training for the hazards most frequently encountered in a particular environment. Naturally, Soldiers traveling to drill will receive higher doses of PMV safety than Soldiers who are required to drive less. The more time Soldiers spend on orders, doing Army things with Army stuff, calls for a different focus. I believe, however, this focal shift tends to be a breeding ground for the proverbial “Murphy-ism.” The following story is a breakdown of how this shift in safety focus affected my unmanned aircraft system platoon last spring.

We were conducting our three-week reset training at Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah. Our mission was to re-wing, receive new laser designator training, and re-establish our postdeployment home station readiness level progression. The training was on Michael Army Airfield, which is located about two hours from our home station. We convoyed our tactical vehicles to Dugway and took two additional 15-pack vans to use in and around the flight line.

We conducted the necessary safety briefing for the trip, but once we arrived, the platoon transitioned into a more Army training safety focus. We had a risk assessment that included the full barrage of hypotheticals, as well as plans for weather, heat and physical training injuries, and flight line procedure. We even considered possible encounters with snakes, poisonous spiders or scorpions.

When we reached our first weekend, I thought it was a good opportunity to give my Soldiers some well-deserved downtime. We planned a good time to convoy to home station in our 15-pack vans, and I conducted a safety briefing for the road back. Once we made it to home station, we made that quick transition into a safety focus for our homes and on the roads. We then all went our separate directions, which is when we were bitten by the hazard.

As I traveled southbound on the freeway, I noticed traffic slowing. I suspected an accident, but it never crossed my mind that it could be one of my Soldiers. As I approached the wreck, I saw what used to be a huge mega cab pickup. Now, with its front end smashed and wheels torn off, the truck was almost unrecognizable. What I did recognize was my Soldier standing outside the truck. He appeared uninjured, but confused. His pickup had just been struck by a driver in medical distress. I stopped, helped where I could and waited for emergency vehicles to arrive.

We were fortunate that day. My Soldier was fine. But if his truck were any less of a vehicle, this accident might have been much worse. I couldn’t help but think about how we, as Soldiers, safely perform hazardous tasks with dangerous equipment all the time, but we could still be taken out in a PMV accident just a mile from home.

I took this lesson back to my platoon the following week, emphasizing the risk on the roads as we headed home on our second weekend. I was able to drive the point home when I showed my Soldiers the pictures I took at the accident scene. I was sure this would be the teaching tool I needed to reduce our odds of another accident – that is until we returned to the armory for the trip back to Dugway. This time, one of my Soldiers was rear-ended while exiting the freeway. The Soldier’s car was totaled, but fortunately, he wasn’t injured.

The lesson I learned from these experiences is accidents happen all the time, so maybe shifting our focus on what we perceive as the priority hazards isn’t the best approach. It is important to cover all the bases when we address safety. We can’t eliminate the mishaps, but we can definitely reduce the frequency and severity. I was fortunate to have Soldiers behind the wheel that were well-rested, sober and wearing seat belts – all of which we discussed in our safety brief.

My unit now understands that there are many risks out there that we must identify. Each one deserves equal respect. You never know which one might get you.

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