I hate to say I told you so, but we’ve all heard that before. The lifting of COVID-19 restrictions around the country produced unwanted results that I warned of in previous articles. I previously told you about three months of record low off-duty fatalities. Now I have to tell you that June set the wrong kinds of records. As Soldiers began to move about resuming semi-normal activities, they began taking risks that led to their deaths. We finished June with 14 off-duty Soldier fatalities. That’s more Soldiers than we lost in the three preceding months combined. Fourteen fatalities makes June 2020 the worst month of June since 2011 when we lost 15 Soldiers. It also makes June 2020 the second worst single month in the last five years. What changed?
The summer months usually show an increase in off-duty fatalities. Warm weather and sunshine lead people to more outside activities and it’s great to get out on a motorcycle or go to the beach or the lake. There are risks associated with all these activities and when you add fatigue or alcohol to the mix, it becomes a recipe for disaster. This unfortunately happens every summer to some extent, but this spike from four in April and three in May to fourteen in June, is disturbing. The only common factor that can account for this surge is the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions. Soldiers have been limited in their activities through the spring and now seem to be trying to make up for lost time.
Here's the breakdown of the June fatalities:
2 June: One Soldier lost in a motorcycle accident when he was struck from behind by a truck.
3 June: One Soldier lost in a motorcycle accident when he collided with another rider after a motorcycle group gathering at an off-post establishment.
4 June: Two Soldiers lost in one vehicle accident when the driver ran a red light and was hit by a semi-truck.
12 June: One Soldier lost in a vehicle accident when driver ran into a jersey barrier outside an installation gate. One Soldier lost in a motorcycle accident while he was operating another Soldier's motorcycle and ran into a fixed object. Two Soldiers drowned in separate incidents in the same lake in Colorado within hours of each other.
20 June: One Soldier lost in a vehicle accident when the Soldier driver lost control and ran into a tree and the passenger was killed, and one Soldier drowned while swimming off-shore.
26 June: One Soldier lost in a single vehicle motorcycle accident and one in a single vehicle accident.
28 June: One Soldier drowned after swinging from a rope swing into a lake.
30 June: One Soldier lost in a motor vehicle accident where he was forced off the road and struck a power pole. He was electrocuted by a downed power line.
All of these are tragic, a couple even more so because the Soldiers were victims of others. But I wonder if the rest of these Soldiers considered the risks associated with their activities before they started. We don’t have reports of alcohol use on many of these yet, but some of them appear to fit that profile. Single vehicle accidents always beg the question of the involvement of alcohol, fatigue, or distracted driving. Four drownings in a single month, two in places not authorized for swimming, also indicate a lack of risk management on the part of the individuals. We have to do better.
July is traditionally the worst month for off-duty fatalities. With June being this bad, we cannot afford for July to be worse. For some good news it appears we made it through the Fourth of July weekend without any Soldier off-duty fatalities. Going forward the USACRC has a number of tools that can be used to help first line leaders with their counseling of Soldiers, which is our best off-duty mishap prevention program.
The Off-Duty Safety Awareness Presentation (ODSAP), Small Unit Leader cards, and even TRiPs are all available on our website and waiting for units to use. Leaders, we lost almost two squads of Soldiers last month. We need to stem that upward shift. Soldiers, you’ve survived so much over the last four months. Don’t let your own actions be what costs you your life.