Well, the Christmas of COVID came and went and we finally made it to 2021 — the year we have been looking forward to seeing. Fortunately, almost all of us are here to hope the New Year brings back a normalcy we can all enjoy.
In this series of articles since the pandemic began, I have challenged you to manage the risks in your off-duty activities, both for COVID and mishaps. Except for June, when restrictions started lifting, and an unexplainable two weeks in early November, you have done very well. We lost fewer Soldiers to off-duty mishaps than in any time in our history.
The holiday period we just completed is another great example. Between the Saturday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after New Year's Day, we had six off-duty fatalities. This was the second lowest total in history for that time period. The best was last year, when we had only four off-duty fatalities during the same period. That makes these two years the lowest ever for holiday off-duty fatalities. In only one other year have we had single digits, and that was nine in FY17. While these mishaps were all tragedies, we significantly reduced the fatalities during our holiday periods. We had 25 fatalities during that holiday period as recently as 2013, and an average of 16 for 2010-2019. Four last year and six this year demonstrates success that shouldn't be considered coincidental. When you add in the July Fourth weekend with zero fatalities in 2020, a new pattern is emerging.
We are now seemingly doing better during what was once considered the highest-risk periods for off-duty mishaps. The question becomes, “Why?” Motor vehicles are still the primary hazard, and all six Soldiers lost over the holidays were in motor vehicles. While COVID probably reduced travel over the July Fourth period, estimates are that as many — if not more — Soldiers traveled over the holidays this year than last year due to deferred travel from the entire pandemic period.
So what is preventing the mishaps? You are! The only conclusion that can be reached is that we, as an Army and as individuals, are paying attention to Army senior leaders, the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center (USACRC) communication efforts and your local commanders when they talk about high-risk periods. Together, we have attacked the high risk. Now it seems more likely that a standard weekend when we might not be as focused on risk management is worse than the holiday periods. Our challenge is to take the focus we place on the holidays and put it on every day. That takes an effort from everyone.
I have been able to bring mostly good news in these messages. I would really like to continue doing that. Comparing and analyzing numbers of Soldier deaths can be a tedious and saddening effort. But when the numbers keep improving year over year, it can be hopeful as well. We at the USACRC are here to serve you and to help you help yourselves. Be safe, manage your risk and may we all have a better 2021.