Army Safety director reports on accidents at home, abroad
June 2, 2011
FORT DRUM, NY -- Fort Drum senior leaders gathered Thursday at the Commons to hear the latest information about Army safety at home and abroad.
Brig. Gen. William T. Wolf, U.S. Army Combat Readiness / Safety Center commanding general and U.S. Army Safety director, visited the North Country last week to meet with Fort Drum leaders and speak about current safety trends and initiatives.
Brig. Gen. Harry E. Miller Jr., senior commander Fort Drum, introduced Wolf during the annual Safety Day luncheon.
“It’s a pleasure for me to introduce our guest speaker today, (Brig.) Gen. William T. Wolf,” he said. “He’s no stranger to Fort Drum. He’s been here a few days, and I know he’s met with many of the brigade commanders and command safety teams. I’m sure he’ll have some great and insightful words for us.”
Wolf said he appreciated the opportunity to speak to Fort Drum leaders during Safety Day for the second year in a row. He added that because he wears “two hats” as the director of Army Safety and the commanding general of the U.S. Army Combat Readiness / Safety Center, he not only works directly for the Army chief of staff, but he also works for the 1.4 million Soldiers and Department of the Army civilians across the globe.
During his presentation, Wolf discussed safety challenges the Army faces as a force and trends for leaders to watch for, adding that Fort Drum has done well in mitigating accidents.
“Our entire Army as a force is not realizing the same success you all are seeing here,” he said. “We still have a lot of challenges out there.”
While the Army faces challenges, accident ratings as a whole have never been as low as they are this fiscal year, Wolf said. Since the 1970s, the Army has dramatically decreased the number of accident fatalities.
“We equip our force much better, we train our force much better than we ever have and we have some of the best leaders and best Soldiers than we’ve ever had in our force,” he said. “We can break an aircraft, we can bust up a motorcycle, and we can beat a vehicle of any sort and they can all be replaced. We cannot replace the one precious resource and that is our Soldiers’ lives, and that is the most important thing. That’s what I deal with each and every day.”
Since October, the Army has seen 78 Soldiers killed because of accidents, Wolf added. Of the 78 deaths, only 12 occurred on duty. Losing any Soldier is “sad and tragic,” but the low numbers are due to effective leadership.
“We’ve never seen it that low in 20 years " a tribute to our leadership that you represent and certainly to our Soldiers,” Wolf said. “(The war) does contribute (to accidents on and off duty). Like every other stressor our Soldiers experience, war is certainly a big stressor in their lives, but the biggest challenge we’ve had since the 1970s has been off-duty (accidents).”
The highest number of accidental accidents was during 2005-2006, Wolf continued.
“Our Army was having some difficulties (during that time),” he said. “(There were) a lot of reasons for that … like the environment our Soldiers were thrust into in 2001 and 2002 and into the war in Iraq in 2003. We had some significant challenges we had to overcome, and we did, but in 2005, we lost almost a battalion’s worth of Soldiers.”
Army leadership saw the need to refocus and get back to the basics " composite risk management and a focus on accident prevention from the top leadership down to the individual Soldiers, Wolf said.
“(The decrease in accidental fatalities was a) tribute to our leadership at the time,” he said. “It wasn’t anything magical. A lot of it was due to new equipment, better training and a re-focus from our leadership all the way down, and risk mitigation.”
Off-duty accidents are the “biggest challenge for our Army” today, especially privately owned vehicle and motorcycle crashes, Wolf said. The Army loses a Soldier to an accident about every three days.
The Army’s first-line leadership " junior officers and noncommissioned officers " can be credited for the decrease in on-duty accidents, but they need to learn how to lead in a garrison environment, Wolf added.
“Our junior leaders are some of the best we’ve had in our force,” he said. “(They are) tactically and technically proficient in their tasks … (and they) lead our Soldiers better (than ever). (However), what we’ve found is our junior leaders are unschooled in the art of garrison leadership. Whether it’s a suicide or risky behaviors that lead to fatal accidents, … our junior leaders don’t understand the aspect of taking care of their Soldiers when they’re (at home).”
“We’re seeing that across the force, but it’s getting better,” Wolf continued. “What it’s telling me as a senior leader … is we have a job to do because frankly, that’s our failure. All junior leaders … have seen (since they joined the Army) is deployment to deployment. They haven’t known anything but the next (deployment) date. Now that’s starting to change, and they have to be focused on their Soldiers when they’re back here.”
Soldiers in today’s Army are “some of the best Soldiers we’ve ever had in our force,” Wolf said. On-duty, troops will do anything for their friends in uniform, including paying the ultimate price.
“That’s the kind of Soldiers we have in our Army,” he said. “It’s (an) incredible … and humbling thing to be a part of. Those young men and women embrace the Soldier ethos: never leave a Soldier behind and take care to get that mission accomplished. But come Friday afternoon at 5 p.m., … that same ethos gets turned off. That is trouble. The band of brothers and sisters that I think our Soldiers do embrace is as important off duty as it is on duty.”
Wolf then talked about specific problems the Army is facing on the ground, in the air and in POV accidents, and the initiatives being implemented to decrease the numbers.
Accident trends on ground involve tactical vehicle crashes, weapons mishaps and personal injuries. Soldiers need more than just familiarization with equipment, Wolf said. They need focused, ongoing training; leadership awareness and involvement; tools and programs; and risk assessments, he added.
Aviation accident trends are due mostly to human error, specifically overconfidence and complacency, Wolf continued. The 10th Combat Aviation Brigade here led the way by trying to mitigate problems before they began occurring.
“The 10th CAB took the deer by the horns before they (left on this deployment),” he said. “They broke into task forces early on and (began training and operating as a unit) before they went downrange.”
Wolf reiterated that the Army’s biggest challenge have been off-duty driving accidents. Almost all accidents occurred because of lack of discipline and no seat belts. Ten percent of Soldiers ride motorcycles; 73 percent of all motorcycle crash fatalities involved Soldiers 31-45 years old " the Army’s senior leaders.
“Most of the time, (accidents) involve a single rider on his own " (usually a) novice rider " and a high rate of speed,” he said.
Safety officials are implementing initiatives like motorcycle training (basic, experienced rider, sport bikes and a refresher course) that must be renewed every three years, remedial driver training, online tools and interactive simulators for all types of vehicles, including watercraft, Wolf said.
“You’ve got some great safety professionals across all the (brigades) … who are doing great work,” he said. “Tap into their expertise " they are well-trained and well-experienced.”
For more information about Army safety tools and initiatives, visit the U.S. Army Combat Readiness / Safety Center web site at https://safety.army.mil. The site features information specific to Soldiers, Family Members, leaders and civilians.
“I appreciate everything you do for (Soldiers) every day and certainly the leadership you provide. Thank you. You’ve got a great team,” Wolf said. “The division has done a great job, both downrange and here. As a senior leader in the Army, thank you for your service. For the youngsters here, thank you for joining and serving our Army during a time of war.”
Miller provided closing comments and thanked the leaders for attending the luncheon.
“Look around. We are leaders, whether we’re wearing (ACUs) or a suit and tie,” he said. “We’re the ones who can effect change. It doesn’t stop with us. Let’s (pass the information) down to our first-line leaders. That’s really where the impact is made. We haven’t righted some of these wrongs. As you leave here, make your last order of business safety (briefings for the long weekend).”
Miller also helped recognize each brigade for their participation in Safety Day events. Awards also were given to the top three brigades with the best safety messages " 10th Sustainment Brigade’s “Motorcycle Safety” message, first place; 10th Combat Aviation Brigade’s “Boating Safety,” second place; and 10th Sustainment Brigade’s “Don’t Drink and Drive,” third place.
The luncheon was just one of the events celebrating Safety Day. A Division Run, the Mountain Thunder motorcycle ride and a Safety Fair also were conducted as part of the annual event.