By Jay Mang, Fort Bragg, North CarolinaApril 5, 2018
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 5, 2018) - As I pulled into my driveway after a long day at work, the last thing I wanted to receive was a phone call from the brigade S-3. But it happened. He asked, "Jay, who is the approving authority on a risk management worksheet for a demolition range?" I knew this question could only mean one thing - an accident. My hunch was correct; three of our Soldiers received injuries in a training accident involving demolitions. I immediately headed out to the range.
When I got there, I met with the range officer in charge, the range safety officer and multiple levels of leadership from the platoon. I walked over to where the accident occurred and saw a pile of gear soaked in blood. Then I started asking questions.
As I discussed the sequence of events with the company commander, he explained that his unit was performing static breaching operations, which consisted of blowing doors for entry purposes. So far so good, I thought. He said that under the supervision of the master breacher, Soldiers were placing two C4-constructed charges on practice doors and initiating the charges. The types of charges used were flex linear and c-charges. Using two charges for redundancy, the Soldiers placed flex linears vertically the length of the door, and the c-charge around the handle to breach the lock. They followed each scenario with a hot wash/after-action review. The commander had been running the same training conditions all morning and afternoon until the accident.
Digging deeper, I learned that when the accident occurred, the training had been modified without prior coordination with everyone involved in the scenario. This particular time, an assault team was injected into the training. Ordinarily, this wouldn't have been a problem; however, since everyone involved wasn't read in on the modification, this iteration of training became a recipe for disaster.
The training started normally as the Soldiers placed demolition charges on the door. When the time fuse was pulled to burn, the team sought cover on the side of the building. The c-charge on the door detonated without issue and, three seconds later, the three-man assault team made their way toward the breach. The number one and two man got through the doorway. However, the second flex linear charge detonated while the number three man was in the doorway. All three Soldiers absorbed the impact of the blast and suffered facial lacerations and fragmentation to the legs and arms. Fortunately, they were wearing proper personal protective equipment, which mitigated further injuries.
The "so what" of this unfortunate incident is that the initial risk management worksheet didn't discuss modifications to the training. By adding an assault team to the exercise, the unit incurred an additional risk. The Soldiers didn't have adequate supervision before and during the entry, and rehearsals weren't conducted using multiple charges. The list could go on and on, but the bottom line is this accident was preventable if leadership had exercised proper risk mitigation and risk management.
When it comes to hastily modifying training just to achieve desired results, we risk failing - and failing fast. Thoroughly plan your training. And if you decide to modify a training event, take the time to perform proper risk management.
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