How Did Our Army Do?
January 3, 2012
Now more than ever, Leaders from the squad up the chain of command "get" safety and its importance to the mission. They've gotten back to the basics of leadership -- becoming more involved in pre-combat checks and inspections, taking a more active role in training and simply ensuring every standard is met, every time. By getting the mission done and doing it safely, today's Leaders are setting a superb example for the Soldiers in their charge, especially those who will assume leadership roles in the future.
Individual Soldiers are also assuming the responsibility for safety. Leaders can't be everywhere all the time, and the positive reductions we've experienced on duty show Soldiers are doing the right things: using restraint systems in tactical vehicles, exercising self discipline, following standing operating procedures on the job and mitigating hazards through composite risk management. Battle buddies are also making a difference by looking out for one another. Accidents can kill just as surely as the enemy in combat, a fact Soldiers have increasingly recognized during the past few years.
Every success comes with challenges, however, and off-duty fatalities remain our Army's most pressing safety concern. Privately owned vehicle accidents and other off-duty mishaps cost 136 Soldiers their lives in fiscal 2011, eight more than the previous year. Combined with the 40 Soldiers who died on duty, our Army began fiscal 2012 short 176 good men and women. But by learning from both the good and bad behind us, we can save even more lives in the year ahead.
On Duty Ground
The positive downward trend in on-duty fatalities carried through fiscal 2011, with double-digit reductions experienced across nearly all accident categories. On-duty privately owned vehicle fatalities dropped by half, and aviation-related fatalities were down 31 percent for the year. Soldier fatalities in both Army motor vehicles and Army combat vehicles fell by 10 percent or more (14 percent and 10 percent, respectively), leaving personnel injury-other as the only category that experienced an increase during the year (up 31 percent).
But as remarkable as these strides in on-duty accident reduction are, critical safety issues remain prevalent in the spectrum of tactical operations. Especially urgent are rollovers in the MRAP family of vehicles, specifically the M-ATV. Eight Soldiers died in M-ATVs during fiscal 2011, all as the result of rollovers (a ninth Soldier was killed in an MRAP Cougar rollover). The demand for these vehicles in Afghanistan has increased exponentially during the past few years, and their role in operations there is invaluable. Therefore, it is vital that Leaders focus on driver licensing and crew drills, including egress training, to keep their vehicle crews in the fight.
Many iterations of MRAP vehicles are available to commanders, and drivers must be licensed and trained in the MRAP variant they are required to operate. There is no single driver training program that qualifies a Soldier in all vehicles; rather, separate training must be completed when a driver is assigned to a vehicle he or she is not licensed to operate. No two MRAP types are the same, and just because a Soldier has experience with one does not mean he or she can safety operate another. Past accidents have shown this is a fatal assumption, and Leaders must put a stop to unqualified driver assignments while enforcing standards like speed limits and restraint system use within their vehicle crews.
Released in early 2011, Training Circular 7-31, MRAP Family of Vehicles Driver Training, is the new Army standard for MRAP training. All commanders with MRAPs in their vehicle fleets must ensure their drivers are being trained to TC 7-31 standards and that junior leaders are enforcing the directives contained therein.
Egress training is just as important to MRAP safety. After a similar device helped dramatically reduce rollover fatalities in HMMWVs, the Army introduced the MRAP Egress Trainer at certain sites in theater and installations worldwide. These trainers offer crews the toughest, most realistic training available outside actual combat operations and also provide Leaders a prime opportunity to engage with their crews on the importance of restraint systems, thorough PCC/PCI and proper mission planning. Leaders of units rotating to theater must make time in their training schedules for crews to practice rollover drills in one of these important training devices.
Leaders should also take advantage of additional MRAP safety resources readily available to them. Complementing TC 7-31 is the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center's MRAP Safety Awareness toolkit, available online at https://safety.army.mil. The kit includes a training support package, safety presentation, graphic training aid, equipment stowage guide and informational videos highlighting a variety of MRAP safety issues. However, training guides and videos are merely tools; Leaders must continually reinforce the importance of rollover drills, restraint system use and adherence to standards on every mission, for these are the only proven methods for both surviving and reducing MRAP accidents.
Equally troubling as MRAP rollovers is the increase in on-duty PI-O fatalities. With four and three fatalities respectively, negligent discharges and Airborne accidents comprised more than half the on-duty PI-O losses during the year, followed closely by heat injury deaths. Rigid standards exist for clearing tactical weapons, and Leaders must ensure these standards are followed to the letter to prevent needless losses.
The USACR/Safety Center's Range and Weapons Safety Toolbox contains standards information and training aids to assist Leaders in ensuring their Soldiers stay safe around tactical weapons. Leaders should also closely follow weather forecasts and heat advisories when their Soldiers are working or training outdoors. Precautions like rest and hydration breaks provide some measure of protection against the heat, but Leaders must ultimately make the call in deciding when their Soldiers are most in danger of injury or death.
On Duty Air
An overall 31 percent decrease in aviation fatalities was one of the best news stories of fiscal 2011, Army aviation's safest year since Sept. 11, 2001. The UH-60 community delivered the most notable number of the year -- a 100 percent reduction in fatalities, down to zero from 11 in fiscal 2010. Crew deaths in the AH-64 and OH-58 airframes remained steady with the previous year, leaving the AH-6 and UH-72 as the only areas of increase in 2011 (one fatal accident with multiple fatalities was recorded for each aircraft).
Considering the demand for aviation assets in theater, training hours logged in CONUS and the conditions in which Army aviation operates worldwide, fiscal 2011's safety performance is a stellar achievement.
One interesting aspect of aviation's 2011 numbers is that, despite a decline in Class A and B accidents, Class C mishaps actually increased during the year. However, this can be seen as a positive indicator of healthy learning organizations applying lessons learned from lesser incidents and mitigating risk more effectively. Aviation provides an excellent example for the rest of the Army in that, while accidents can and do happen, crews continually learn from and overcome mistakes made by others.
Training remains the most important element of safe aviation operations, whether in theater or at home. During the past several years, the Army has increased its investment in high-altitude and environmental training opportunities, using the HAMET program and HAATS. This training closely replicates conditions in theater and provides an excellent opportunity for pilots and crews to familiarize themselves with safe operations in adverse environments.
Leaders must also take advantage of the Army's Aircrew Coordination Training-Enhanced program, which prepares crews to work together and communicate clearly in every situation. This program should be treated as an ongoing training tool rather than an annual requirement, for communication is the most critical skill any crewmember can possess in the cockpit. Additionally, Leaders should stay focused on emerging aviation trends to prevent similar accidents from occurring within their own formations.
As important as manned aircraft are to our Army's missions, we cannot forget the contributions of unmanned aircraft systems to our operations overseas. While UAS accidents might not seem as urgent as manned incidents with fatalities, the fact is these systems are vital combat multipliers costing into millions of dollars, and we lost 12 in fiscal 2011. Leaders must ensure their units have up-to-date reporting systems in place and a trained safety officer designated for reporting duties when mishaps occur. Only by sharing this data can we report lessons learned and keep our fleet of UAS available to commanders and Soldiers.
As in years past, off-duty safety posed the biggest challenge for our Army in fiscal 2011. Overall fatalities were up 6 percent from the previous year, due to an 80 percent increase in off-duty PI-O deaths (led by accidental drownings) and an 18 percent increase in fatal motorcycle accidents. Deaths in sedans and other POVs (truck, SUV, van, moped and ATV) were down 16 percent collectively, and pedestrian fatalities -- a critical concern during fiscal 2010 -- dropped 67 percent for the year. These successes show we can turn the arrow down off duty, but not until Leaders and Soldiers tackle the ongoing problem of indiscipline.
Speed, lack of seat belts or personal protective equipment and alcohol use remain among the top three factors cited in fatal off-duty accidents. In fact, during fiscal 2011, several Soldiers killed on motorcycles were confirmed to have been traveling at speeds of 90 mph or more. An even greater number involved Leaders at the rank of E5 and above. This is an untenable situation for our Army, and Leaders at every echelon must put a singular focus on curbing off-duty indiscipline within their ranks.
The easiest way for Leaders to engage with their Soldiers on riding safety is the Motorcycle Mentorship Program, an ongoing initiative that pairs experienced and novice riders together to foster safe riding habits. With the vast number of Leaders who own motorcycles and enjoy riding during their off-duty time, the MMP offers a perfect opportunity for every junior rider within our Army to learn what right looks like on the road.
The POV/POM Toolbox, located at https://safety.army.mil, contains insights and best practices from successful MMP chapters across the Army and tips for Leaders interested in establishing programs on their installations.
New regulatory guidance is also aimed at making our Soldiers safer while riding and driving. The Army Progressive Motorcycle Program, which outlines expanded training events at specific time intervals, was recently mandated by rapid action revision to Army Regulation 385-10, The Army Safety Program. The PMP is comprised of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic RiderCourse, Military SportBike RiderCourse or Basic RiderCourse2 (dependent upon type of motorcycle owned), motorcycle refresher training and sustainment training. By continually re-engaging riders, the PMP promotes safe riding behaviors, refreshes skills and establishes lifelong learning within the Army's motorcycle community. Additionally, Remedial Driver Training (also known as "Roadrageous") is a training program that targets Soldiers with driving offenses and known high-risk driving behaviors. More information on both programs is available via the Privately Owned Vehicle Safety Tab at https://safety.army.mil.
Fiscal 2011's exponential increase in off-duty PI-O accidents also merits immediate Leader attention. Of the 27 Soldier deaths that fell within this category, nearly half occurred on the water. Early in the year, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine command released "Off Duty, On Guard," a great tool Leaders can share with their Soldiers to heighten awareness of off-duty risks.
Through a series of interactive vignettes, users assume the identity of a specific Soldier and have to make decisions on his or her behalf. The tool shows the consequences of bad decisions on the water, on the road and at home and is an excellent eye-opener for Soldiers who might not see risky behavior within themselves. Off Duty, On Guard is available on the USACR/Safety Center website.
Reducing preventable accidents during a time of war is unprecedented in our Army's history, yet our Leaders, Soldiers, Families and Civilians have done so nearly every year since fiscal 2005. This accomplishment offers proof of the power of engagement and CRM. Leaders and Soldiers clearly get safety on duty, and cultivating that same mindset off duty remains our challenge for the new year. By working together, staying engaged and using all the tools at our disposal, we will keep our Army both safe and strong!
Editor's note: All data cited in this article were current as of Dec. 5, 2011. Late reports or modifications to existing data may change statistics and findings.