FORT RUCKER, Ala. (February 13, 2019) - I never gave much thought to off-duty safety. For me, it was just something I always had to hear about before being released for a long weekend. The message was always the same: Have a plan, wear your personal protective equipment, take a buddy and on and on and on. Fortunately, I eventually got the message - but it nearly cost me my life.

I'd owned my Polaris Ranger RZR (a side-by-side all-terrain vehicle) for about six months and ridden it almost daily. On this particular day, I told my wife where I was planning on riding and grabbed my helmet and cellphone. As far as I was concerned, I'd just met my off-duty safety requirements. I was having a good time riding by myself when I found a trail that branched off my normal route. I decided it would be fun to see what this new trail had to offer.

Man, that was a great idea, as this trail was so much more fun than my normal route. I was flying, at times reaching about 70 mph. And just when I thought it couldn't get any better, the trail got muddy. Who doesn't like to get a little mud on the tires? Then it happened: I got stuck.

When I say I got stuck, I really mean it. In fact, I was so stuck that I broke my winch cable trying to get out. I then had to tie it off with a synthetic cable, get a snatch block and try again. Once I was finally out, the ATV promptly got stuck again. So I winched. Then I got stuck. And then I winched some more. And then I got stuck yet again. Eventually, I made it past the mud and the trail opened back up. With nothing in my way, I took off - fast. Then I saw a turn.

The ATV rolled, landing on the driver's side. My helmet, which I wasn't wearing, flew past my head and out of the ATV. I decided this was a sign that it was time to go home. A little while later, I arrived back at the house without any further incidents.

So let's analyze what happened here. First, I had a plan when I left the house, riding a trail I was familiar with. Second, I had my PPE. Third, while I didn't take a buddy with me, I did let someone know what I was going and the trail that I was going to use. I also brought my cellphone in case of an emergency. On top of all this, the Polaris RZR is equipped with a roll cage and seat belts. I was wearing my seat belt (which is the reason I didn't get ejected from the ATV). Based on all that, it sounds like I did a pretty good job ensuring my safety, right?

Let's be honest, though. I did very little right that day. Yes, I had a plan, but it changed when I found that new trail, and nobody knew about it. But, hey, that's OK because if something were to go wrong, at least I had my cellphone. Did I mention that I knew I didn't get a signal on that trail, so the phone was virtually worthless? And what about my helmet? I brought it but never bothered to put it on. What good does PPE do if you don't even wear it? What's more, the helmet almost took me out when I rolled the ATV, just missing my head by inches. How ironic would it have been if the gear that was supposed to protect my noggin would have caused a head injury?

I made a lot of poor decisions that day. I'm lucky those decisions didn't lead to an injury or, even worse, my death. As an Army, I believe we do a good job of being safety conscious at work. However, we must remember to bring those safe practices home. Whether the accident happens at work or in the woods behind your house while riding your ATV, the result is the same - the loss of a Soldier.

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