Speaking Up For Safety
October 1, 2012
Unfortunately, Soldiers can feel intimidated by the need to complete the mission. The source of the pressure may be personal desires or by order of a superior. Military professionals must be able to express their concerns in an appropriate manner, especially when conditions may result in unsafe operations. I personally experienced such a situation as a young sergeant during an annual training exercise for the Ohio Army National Guard.
Camp Grayling, Mich., was a popular training site for Guard commands of neighboring states. It has a well-developed cantonment area, coupled with realistic terrain in the field training sites. Soldiers earned driving hours during the trip from home station, and the available facilities made the relatively short stays fairly comfortable. However, training requirements sometimes dictated that Soldiers be shuttled between the field sites and the cantonment area to facilitate classroom instruction for certain required sessions. For units with limited access to vehicles, Soldier transport had to be coordinated with other support units. My unit was camped in our designated field-training site. Many of us were required to complete certain briefings prior to the end of AT. I have to admit, I don't even remember what the training was, but considering it was not associated with a mobilization, I can infer that it was a routine, annual requirement.
One day, we were alerted about 6 p.m. that a vehicle was on its way to return us to the cantonment area. Those affected needed to bring the necessities for an overnight stay and wait for the vehicle to arrive. After waiting for the vehicle for an hour or so, another noncommissioned officer asked our first sergeant if there was a change in plan. He was advised to remain ready to leave, as he really didn't know why the vehicle was late or when it would arrive. So, we continued to wait.
As darkness arrived, we remained in the pickup area with our gear. A couple of times, our first sergeant came out to tell us that someone had radioed him that the vehicle was on the way. Again, we waited as instructed. Some Soldiers expressed a desire to return to the tents for a nap until the vehicle arrived, but they were warned to not leave the area because of the risk of missing the movement. And sleeping in the waiting area was deemed unsafe due to the potential of drivers not being able to see us in the dark.
About 2:30 a.m. -- 8½ hours after we were first notified to be ready for transport -- our battalion commander and sergeant major arrived in a truck. Evidently, they'd been advised we were still awaiting movement and our training was scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. Upon their arrival, we immediately began climbing into the cargo area of the truck with our personal gear.
In the flurry of activity, the sergeant major asked me, "Where are your drivers?" As the company safety NCO, I explained to him we had all been awake since 5 a.m. the previous morning and none of us were rested enough to safely drive the distance back to the cantonment area, which included passing through a notable area through the local town. The sergeant major was insistent one of our Soldiers drive. However, I was convinced one of our Soldiers would likely fall asleep at the wheel and cause an accident with a cargo bed full of his peers.
I decided to word the situation in the plainest terms I could think of: "Sergeant major, we can put one of our Soldiers behind that wheel and instruct them to drive through town. And likely it would be you or the colonel who would have to explain why he crashed into a storefront or another vehicle should something happen." He looked at me and started to respond; but after considering my hypothetical scenario, told me to finish getting our Soldiers in the truck. He ended up driving.
Can I say that I avoided an accident that night? Of course not, but I am proud to know I will never have to regret staying silent when someone needed to say something. Since that early morning, I have earned a commission in the National Guard and now serve as an additional duty safety officer for my brigade headquarters. As the years pass, I will never forget that night when I stood up for my peers and myself. Speaking up for safety might just save a life.