Getting Back to the Basics
March 24, 2011
The basics may include using the proper equipment to inflate a split-ring rimmed tire, properly training and licensing drivers, conducting a thorough passenger briefing or making on-the-spot corrections during training exercises. Combinations of high optempo, fatigue, personnel turnover, overconfidence and complacency have caused us to forget the basics, and our Soldiers and our Army are paying the price. Injuries, destruction of equipment and, most tragically, fatalities are often the consequences of letting down our guard during basic day-to-day operations. The leading causes of aviation and ground accidents continue to be overconfidence and complacency, often resulting in Soldiers failing to execute operations using the task, conditions and standards to which they were trained. Evidence suggests that Leaders rarely check to ensure that routine duties - the simple things - are performed to standard. Unsupervised, a Soldier's desire to accomplish the mission can lead to taking shortcuts. Shortcuts in routine duties often lead to shortcuts in more complex tasks ... and those shortcuts often lead to disaster. We have a long list of such accidents in our database here at the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center. These accidents share a common thread - somewhere in the accident sequence, someone knowingly violated a basic standard or standing operating procedure (SOP). This was usually done with good intentions, often trying to make it easier to accomplish the mission. In many of the cases, Leaders failed to take corrective action either before or during the accident sequence. Active leadership is the key to halting this alarming trend. When Soldiers violate a procedure or standard, Leaders must take immediate action to correct the situation. In effect, failure to correct the violation sets a new, lower standard and legitimizes the shortcut. Leaders at every level must establish procedures and set and enforce standards that focus on doing things, including the routine things, the right way every time. This is something we owe our Soldiers. Tasks, conditions and standards, SOPs and regulations have been developed over time for a reason: to ensure safe, efficient operations. Enforcing them is one of the best ways we can take care of our Soldiers. Taking or allowing shortcuts does not help our Soldiers, nor does it help us in combat. Combat requires agility of thought in planning, aggressiveness in action and persistence in execution. It also requires an understanding by all of where the left and right limits are. The "basics" or standards provide those limits. Setting the standard is a function of command; however, the primary responsibility for ensuring execution to standard lies with first-line Leaders. The squad Leader, instructor pilot, team chief and even the "battle buddy" must understand fully what the standards are and understand that shortcuts are not the answer. Our junior NCOs and officers must be the commander's controllers. Tell them what you want and the standards to which you expect your Soldiers to perform. Give them the authority to enforce those standards and halt unsafe activities. Then hold them accountable. They must set the example and be the commander's representative in garrison, training and combat operations. We are an Army of standards, and we know the basics contained within those standards. We execute them every day. However, the trends indicate that collectively we are letting down our guard. We are destroying equipment and putting Soldiers at risk because they are taking shortcuts and not executing the basics. Don't let the next fatal accident be on your watch because you took the basics for granted.