Countering the Greatest Accidental Killer of Soldiers

By Angela Welch, U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, Communication and Public AffairsMarch 16, 2022

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FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 16, 2022) – With the arrival of spring and summer already knocking on the door, the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center released its annual Off-Duty Safety Awareness Presentation (ODSAP), a tool intended to help leaders engage their Soldiers about the hazards they may face during the upcoming months and mitigation techniques to reduce personal injury and loss of life.

While Army accidental fatalities have gradually decreased over the past decade, off-duty mishaps remain a leadership challenge. Historically, April through September includes some of the most deadly months for the Army, with notable increases in off-duty mishaps that often result in critical and fatal injuries to Soldiers.

“We closed out FY21 with a historically low number of on-duty ground Soldier fatalities. Chalk that up to what leaders do best: train and care for their Soldiers and enforce standards and policies,” said Gen. Joseph Martin, vice chief of staff of the Army. “Unfortunately, FY21 had a downside, as we lost 86 Soldiers to off-duty mishaps. While that is far from the most we’ve lost in a year, it’s still unacceptable. As an Army, we can and must do better.”

ODSAP is updated annually based on Armywide mishap data and trend analysis. This year’s theme — “Was it Really an Accident?” — contains materials and statistics that highlight the critical importance of personal risk management during off-duty activities. It addresses risky behaviors and emphasizes the often-deadly consequences of fatigue, alcohol use and indiscipline.

The briefing features embedded videos to highlight the potential hazards associated with private motor vehicle driving, weapons handling and other recreational activities. The presentation is a complete briefing kit, including speaker notes, and gives leaders the option to tailor the information to reflect trends specific to their formations.

Nearly all the FY21 off-duty fatalities were preventable, with the vast majority due to behavior-based/human error, such as speeding, fatigue, distraction or inattentiveness, lack of experience and failure to wear seat belts.

Brig. Gen. Andrew C. Hilmes, director of Army Safety and commanding general of the USACRC, believes ODSAP is a valuable tool first-line leaders can use to engage their Soldiers in an effort to curb off-duty mishaps and preserve readiness.

“Some of us are more prone to risky behavior than others,” Hilmes said. “Driving down mishaps, whether on or off duty, is a reflection of a unit’s safety culture and requires effective, deliberate and committed leadership. Engaged first-line leaders know their Soldiers and help them visualize the challenges they will face during their downtime. They are essential in reducing this unfortunate and unnecessary drain on readiness.”

Off-duty loss prevention is a significant leadership challenge because Soldiers are typically away from their leaders when the mishap occurs. Company-level leaders are the target audience for ODSAP, as they are the key to preventing loss and saving Soldiers’ lives, said Command Sgt. Maj. James L. Light, Jr., command sergeant major of the USACRC.

"An effective leader’s influence transcends their Soldiers’ ‘duty status,’” Light said. “It only takes a small amount of time to have a discussion about off-duty activities, what hazards may be encountered and how to handle them. We want these leaders to use the presentation as a foundation to discuss standards and set expectations with their Soldiers.”

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