By Col. Christopher W. Waters, Deputy Commander, U.S. Army Combat Readiness CenterSeptember 6, 2018
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Sept. 6, 2018) - Summer represents increased risks to our Soldiers both on and off duty as a result of more intensive training, higher recreational activity, and the turmoil of the PCS season. Every year at this time, we see an increase in fatalities from preventable mishaps. Additionally, while our Army has made tremendous strides over the last 10 years reducing mishaps and fatalities through Soldier discipline and leader diligence, our numbers over the last 18 months show a reversal of that positive trend. I urge all of you to step up your risk management efforts throughout the rest of the summer.
At the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, we conduct and review fatal mishap investigations and there is a common thread in most of them. Accidents occur when we fail to execute tasks to standard. For most every task, we have well-defined procedures and standards designed for the conditions in which we expect to operate. Failing to execute to standard makes even the most benign task more dangerous.
This is especially true in Army motor vehicle operations, where more than half of our on duty fatalities occur. (Note: A combat aviation brigade has more vehicle rolling stock than a brigade combat team). A recent fatal mishap at the National Training Center saw a Soldier crushed between a vehicle and a trailer while preparing to move; the Soldiers did not execute basic standards, no leaders were present, and the vehicle chocks and technical manuals were unopened in the trailer BII storage box. A similar accident in a motor pool saw another Soldier fatally crushed because the Soldiers performing the trailer operations were not trained or equipped properly. In that tragic case, multiple leaders were observing, but not supervising, as the fatality occurred right in front of them.
There are fundamental reasons why we fail to follow standards - inexperienced Soldiers don't execute to standard, Soldiers are not trained to standard, leaders don't enforce the standard, or we fail to execute proper risk management. I challenge each and every one of you to emphasize the following:
Standards and discipline. Train to standard. Enforce the standard. When Soldiers train and execute to standard they are less likely to fall prey to hazards and risks. Don't let Soldiers execute a task for which they are not trained. Leaders must know the standards, and they must be present and actively supervising at the point of execution. Assign your most experienced Soldiers to the highest-risk operations, implement mitigation controls, and place leaders at the point of execution.
Motor Vehicle Operations. This is the single-highest payoff focus area for leaders and Soldiers to prevent loss. Learn and implement the recently revised Army Regulation 600-55, The Army Driver and Operator Standardization Program; select and empower your Master Drivers; and emphasize your driver licensing and training programs. Demand use of the operator's manual and operating procedures for all motor vehicle operations.
The summer also represents the highest risk period for our Soldiers and families during off-duty activities, which account for an overwhelming majority of our total fatalities. Over the last five years, we've lost an average of 33 Soldiers in July, August and September to off-duty accidents. That is nearly a flight company's worth of readiness lost, often senselessly due to poor judgment and a wholesale absence of proactive risk management. A majority of all off-duty fatalities are a result of private motor vehicle mishaps, both four-wheeled vehicle and motorcycle accidents. (Note: Motorcycles are a disproportionate killer of our Soldiers: Leaders must know and mentor our motorcycle riders, and riders must adhere to the skills, judgment and behavior taught at our motorcycle safety courses). Just like on duty, motor vehicle operations off duty are the best point of emphasis to prevent loss. I cannot overstate the importance of risk management while driving or planning to drive.
This year, we have also lost Soldiers to drowning while kayaking, privately owned weapons discharges, pedestrian vehicle collisions, pedestrian with train collisions (three total), weightlifting, snowboarding, and a household fire. As you would expect, many of these involved alcohol. Moreover, we have well surpassed off-duty fatalities to date compared to FY17. We must help our fellow Soldiers recognize and avoid the hazards that lead to these tragedies and instill a risk management mindset at all times, both on and off duty.
I ask your consideration with the following:
Manage off-duty activities the way we manage on-duty risks. Inculcate risk management into everything you do. Every operation, every mission, every day, every activity - identify, assess and mitigate the hazards and risks you expect to encounter in that endeavor. This will create a culture of risk awareness and risk management that preserves readiness.
Leaders must focus on junior leaders. While we all assume it's our youngest Soldiers who are at highest risk when off duty, the fact is that so far this year, more than 55 percent of our private motor vehicle fatalities have been sergeants and above. The leaders we expect to enforce standards across our formations are not doing so in their own off-duty activities. Mentor them and ensure they are setting the right example.
Check out the Off-Duty Safety Awareness Presentation on the USACRC website, https://safety.army.mil/OFF-DUTY/Home-and-Family/Off-Duty-Safety-Awareness-Presentation-2018. It is a comprehensive tool to help leaders and Soldiers think through and manage off-duty hazards.
Thank you in advance for your efforts. Readiness Through Safety!
FYI - A quick note on aviation operations: This far in FY18, three Class A mishaps occurred after landing during ground taxi operations where we literally drove the aircraft into fixed structures. All three instances share common causal factors: complacency, poor crew coordination, and failure to execute published procedures or tasks to standard. If you have not yet received the USACRC's "close-call" vignette based training, which highlights these and many other "near-miss" lessons learned, please contact MAJ. Travis Easterling at firstname.lastname@example.org or DSN 312-558-2932. We will send a team to you to execute the training.
FYI - The Secretary of the Army recently rescinded two well-known safety-related motor vehicle requirements as part of his "Prioritizing Efforts - Readiness and Lethality" Directives: the Travel Risk Planning System (TRiPs) and the Army Accident Avoidance Course. Removal of these requirements in no way diminishes the criticality of active Soldier and leader risk management during motor vehicle operations. The Secretary's intent is to reduce the administrative burden on Soldiers and leaders at the company level to eliminate distractions and focus on readiness. In doing so, he is in fact emphasizing the importance of face-to-face leader and Soldier interaction and hands-on training and risk management, rather than relying on outdated computer-based training and virtual e-interaction.