FORT HOOD, Texas -- As Sgt. 1st Class Johnny Cheatham pulled on belts and kicked the tires on his Soldier's vehicle, he told him, "A vehicle can easily be replaced, but a Soldier can't."

Cheatham, a noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the medical surgery ward at Carl R. Darnall Medical Center with 20-plus years in the Army, has done a lot of vehicle inspections and safety briefings. But he still takes each one as seriously as the first.

"It's all about taking care of the Soldiers, and there's nothing more important than keeping them safe," he said.

The Army's Safety Program regulations make it mandatory for units to conduct vehicle safety inspections for their Soldiers a minimum of every six months. Cheatham said the CRDAMC policy is very detailed and specific requiring inspections, plus safety briefings, anytime a Soldier will be off for three days or longer and is traveling more than 250 miles.

"The regulation may state a minimum of one every six months, but we follow the best practice and choose to do them more frequently," said Steven Smith, safety engineer from the CRDAMC Safety Office. "This is just leaders showing genuine interest in their Soldiers' safety. They are protecting their Soldiers by making sure they have planned accordingly, are aware of all the risks involved, documented their travel plans by using the Travel Risk Planning System and have a vehicle in good working order."

Engaged leadership does make a difference, according to Smith. He said that, through the diligent efforts of leaders just like Cheatham, the Army has seen a reduction in the number of off-duty Soldiers killed in vehicle accidents over the last five years.

"Not only has the Army seen less Privately-Owned Vehicle off-duty fatalities, but there's been a reduction in all POV accident classes," Smith added. "Data posted on the Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center website shows that 414 Soldiers lost a day or more of duty time due to POV accidents in 2008. This fiscal year, the Army saw that number cut in half, with only 201 Soldiers losing duty time because of a car accident."

The vehicle inspection is a good way to help prevent accidents, as it can identify any deficiencies in the car before it becomes a problem on the road, said Cheatham.

"The inspection is thorough, checking things like the tires, brakes, lights, wipers, fluid levels, battery and seatbelts. But it also requires the Soldier to show proof of a valid state driving license and insurance card," Cheatham said. "If any problems are discovered during the inspection, the Soldier has two weeks to get any repairs done or correct any other discrepancies."

The vehicle inspection is just one means to help keep Soldiers safe when traveling, Smith said. In addition to the vehicle inspection, Soldiers traveling more than the 250 mile radius must document their travel plans by using the TRiPS.

"TRiPS is an excellent risk management tool. It requires users to provide important information about their trip such as the specific location point their traveling to on what days, listing all drivers' names, enter how many of hours of sleep they plan on getting prior to the trip and more," Smith said. "By doing the individual assessment in TRiPS, Soldiers can show their leaders that they adequately planned their trip and are aware of any and all risks. It also allows them a chance to comment or make changes if needed."

In addition to the vehicle inspections and TRiPS documentation, Cheatham said he also gives Soldiers a detailed safety memo and counseling form that Soldiers must sign to validate the package.

"I cover a lot of the same topics each time, but it's all important information. It never hurts to repeat yourself when it comes to safety," he said. "It might seem like there's a lot involved, and that it's the same old stuff each time, but I don't want to take shortcuts with my Soldiers' safety. I want to show them I care and I'm serious about taking care of them."