June 19, 2014
To steadfastly hold out against impairment -- that's what it means to endure. An apt descriptor for a Soldier, especially one in today's harried world. Endurance is a necessity for everything Soldiers do. However, fatigue is, and always has been, a pervasive problem in the military. With multiple root causes, it is exacerbated by still more elements commonplace in an operational environment. The result has been compromised missions and senseless loss of life, both directly and indirectly attributable to fatigue.
Somewhere at this hour there is a Soldier succumbing to the effects of mental and physical fatigue such as lapses of attention, slowed reaction time, inaccurate performance, poor judgment, substandard teamwork, and impaired situational awareness; to name just a few. Leaving cherished loved ones behind, they have traveled across multiple time zones to a staging site on the side of a mountain, and, after a stint of restless daytime sleep, are about to take on an arduous night mission. Moments into the mission, that Soldier will end up as the next fatigue-related statistic in the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center's accident database. Does this perfect storm of events happen every day? No. But it happens far too often.
Every leader, and in fact every Soldier, has a responsibility to protect against the dire impact of fatigue by realizing the true hazard it represents to safety and operational effectiveness. A soon-to-be released version of the Leader's Guide to Crew Endurance is greatly expanded with the aim of assisting them in meeting that responsibility. Originally developed to address crew endurance issues experienced by aviators, the updated version includes information for both ground and air assets. Essentially a treatise on fatigue and the dynamics that contribute to fatigue in an operational setting, it also provides specific information and tools--a prescription of sorts--to help leaders at all levels recognize and circumvent problems associated with crew endurance.
As an illustration, the foremost cause of fatigue is total or partial sleep deprivation. Sleep is a physiological need like hunger and thirst, and inadequate sleep creates decrements in performance, increased safety risks, and adverse health consequences. It has been estimated that every 24 hours without sleep leads to performance declines of approximately 25-30 percent. An individual can continue to work for only a limited time before the need for sleep overrides all else.
Under normal circumstances, sufficient, quality sleep can restore the human body and alleviate the symptoms and side effects of fatigue. In an operational environment, however, there are numerous factors that impinge on a Soldier's ability to get an undisturbed night of quality sleep. Among them are jet lag, shift lag and stress; the latter of which can be further broken down to include environmental/physiologic issues and cognitive/emotional concerns. Add to that the need to function effectively at altitude--which in and of itself can directly cause fatigue--and you have a situation with potentially disastrous consequences that must be closely monitored and managed.
All Soldiers are susceptible to physical and mental fatigue. When the necessities of the mission make it impossible to avoid, however, leaders must be prepared to implement effective and validated countermeasures to ensure the success of the mission and the safety of their Soldiers. The information provided in the upcoming Leader's Guide to Crew Endurance will help commanders, training leaders and planners effectively manage crew endurance hazards for both ground and air personnel.