As we observe the holiday season, Soldiers both here and abroad have many reasons to celebrate. Many of you will be spending time with Family and friends, while others will be celebrating a safe return home from an extended overseas deployment. There is additional cause for celebration as we at the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center continue to review accident statistics for fiscal 2009. During this single year, our Army's total accidental fatalities dropped to their lowest number since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. As a result of your engagement and dedication to safety each and every day, approximately 30 more Soldiers are alive in 2009 to spend the holidays with their loved ones.

Even with these successes, there is more work to be done. In the first few weeks of fiscal 2010, our Army experienced a rash of off-duty fatalities that threaten to reverse the positive gains made in 2009. The circumstances leading to each of these accidents is nearly identical: speed, lack of seat belts, late evening or early morning travel and alcohol are often all listed as contributing factors. In one particular accident, a 27-year-old Soldier was killed when he lost control of his SUV on an icy interstate highway. The vehicle rolled over three times, ejecting both the Soldier and his fiancAfAe, neither of whom were wearing seat belts. The Soldier was reportedly driving too fast for the road conditions, which had deteriorated due to rain and freezing temperatures. While alcohol was not suspected as a contributing factor, the combination of speed, no seat belts and dangerous road conditions proved lethal for this Soldier.

This accident clearly illustrates a simple but deadly fact that has troubled Army Leaders for many years. When on duty, we expect our Soldiers to adhere to standards of discipline and personal accountability. However, this mindset often fails to carry over into off-duty time. Although we have made impressive progress in reducing off-duty fatalities, indiscipline remains a primary factor in a majority of Soldier-involved, off-duty accidents.

Please continue to encourage your Soldiers to eliminate the distinction between work and play. I encourage you to ensure your junior Leaders are actively engaged with their Soldiers and reinforce the principles and practices we know to be successful in mitigating risk and preventing accidental losses.

But, as you're aware, engaged leadership is only part of the formula for success. If we are to eliminate risk and reduce these off-duty tragedies, our approach must also include Soldiers taking care of Soldiers, personifying the Band of Brothers and Sisters philosophy.

Families embracing risk management and reinforcing the principles and practices we know to be successful in preventing accidental losses during this time of year when holiday stress is high and traveling for most is increasingly hazardous is also a critical part of success.

Winter is upon us at home and in most of our operational theaters. Sleet, snow and ice are creating treacherous driving conditions across much of the United States, necessitating extra caution for all drivers on our nation's roadways. Some Soldiers are also gearing up for winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding and must mindful of the risks associated with these activities. The USACR/Safety Center team has developed several new posters, videos and other media as part of our current Army Safe Fall/Winter safety campaign, all available for your use on our Web site (

Our Army has made great strides over the past eight years, and I am confident we will continue this downward trend as we move forward into the New Year. Thank you all for what you do every day to keep our Band of Brothers and Sisters safe. I wish each of you and your Families a happy, healthy and safe holiday season!