By Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jason P. Williams, Fort Hood, TexasMay 17, 2016
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (May 17, 2016) - Have you ever argued with your children about the importance of wearing seat belts? My personal battle began shortly after my youngest son outgrew his booster seat. Part of the fight was my own doing because I used to allow him to take off his seat belt on long trips so he could lie down in the backseat. At some point, however, I realized the error of my ways and changed the rules for riding in the car. As most people with children can imagine, this started an ongoing conflict that would at times end with me red in the face and my son in tears. Nevertheless, I remained determined to correct the problem I had created.
Fast forward a few years and I'd been deployed about three weeks. I hadn't talked to my wife during the past few days. When I finally got in touch with her, I'll never forget the sound of her voice. I knew something was wrong when she said, "Hey, honey, let me just say we are all OK." Hearing her say that, though, didn't make the message any easier as she explained what happened.
My family was on the way from Fort Hood, Texas, to Austin for my son's soccer tournament. My wife was driving and my 10- and 2-year-old sons were in the backseat. During their drive, they encountered a bad thunderstorm. A few minutes into the storm, they hit a flooded section of road and my wife lost control of the SUV, which slid onto the grass on the right shoulder. She was able to regain control, slow down and attempt to ease back onto the road. However, the right-rear tire hit the road edge and blew out, sending the SUV sliding sideways and overturning three or four times before it came to rest upside down in the grass.
My wife didn't realize she was hurt and checked on the boys, who appeared to be OK. She climbed out of her window and tried to open the back doors, but they were stuck. By now, people were coming over to assist. My oldest had undone his seat belt and was brushing glass out of his brother's hair. He couldn't get him out of his car seat and wouldn't leave without him.
While all this was going on, my wife was in and out of consciousness. Her left arm was seriously injured and she was bleeding profusely from her head. She remembered asking to see our boys and a women telling her they were doing fine. She'd been assuming the worst, but the fact was, the woman didn't want the kids to see their mother's condition.
My wife went on to explain that the kids had some minor injuries from the stroller and backpacks flying around inside the vehicle. My oldest son needed some dental work due to being struck in the face by something, and my youngest had a large lump on his head. Considering that everything else in the SUV was spread across the highway, I was just happy to hear they were all alive. Their seat belts saved their lives -- of that, I am sure.
As I listened to the story, I couldn't help wondering if I had done something to contribute to this accident. I asked myself, "Were the wipers OK? How old were the tires? When was the last time I checked the tire pressure?" I'd looked over the car shortly before deploying, but was concerned I might have missed something.
For a long time I thought about how I'd have felt had any of them been killed. Those uneasy thoughts hung around in my mind, but I eventually accepted the fact that there was nothing I could do to change the past. Instead, I decided I would focus on how to do better in the future.
My wife and son had some difficulty dealing with the aftermath of the accident. Riding in a car during a bad storm is still a little hard for them, but they have gotten much better. Looking back on it, we view the entire incident as a learning experience for us all.
Obviously, we no longer have a seat belt issue. In fact, I've heard my son remind his friends to fasten their seat belts. I also explained to him that his concern for his brother in an emergency is a quality that many don't posses, especially other children his age. After seeing the SUV's condition, my wife was amazed they survived and felt she'd been given a new lease on life.
It was humbling to come home from combat to hear the details of my family's near-death experience. It is a perfect example of how the most obvious hazards - such as what I faced in combat - are not always the ones that hurt or kill people. Since then, I've worked to make myself more aware of the potential hazards to my family. I've also tried to be better about explaining how and why I take certain safety precautions so my family will be even better prepared the next time I'm gone. When I deploy, I'm not just committed to protecting my comrades in combat; I'm just as committed to protecting my family at home. It's a battle you can't afford to lose.
Click It or Ticket
Every year around the Memorial Day weekend holiday period, law enforcement agencies nationwide ramp up their efforts to crack down on motorists who fail to wear their seat belts. This year's Click It or Ticket campaign runs from May 18-31. Buckle up!