By RETIRED LT. COL. RON PEASTER, U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, Fort Rucker, Ala.June 1, 2011
The accident took place during the U.S. weapons portion of BCT. The training consisted of classroom instruction, dry fire, day and night live fire of small-arms weapons, and concurrent and simulation training on the M2 .50-caliber machine gun and MK-19 40 mm grenade launcher. The BCT battery was in week six of training and conducting simulations training on the MK-19 and M2 at the Engagement Skills Trainer complex. Because only a limited number of Soldiers could train on the EST weapons at the same time, concurrent training was set up outside to maximize the instruction time.
A drill instructor (DI) conducted the concurrent training on the M2 on a covered concrete pad adjacent to the EST buildings. The weapons were oriented toward the bleachers occupied by the BCT Soldiers. Once the Soldiers received a block of instruction on the M2, they all moved off the bleachers and got in line for hands-on training using dummy ammunition. However, unknown to the DI, a live round was located on one of the links with the dummy rounds. Although some of the Soldiers discussed how real the round looked, they decided there was no way the DIs would allow a live round to be mixed in with the dummy ammo. This proved a fatal assumption.
The link with the live round was loaded into an M2 and fed through the chamber numerous times during the training. At one point, the weapon jammed. As the DI attempted to unjam it, the live round was chambered and the M2 fired, striking a Soldier in the abdomen as he was walking between the bleachers in front of the weapon. The Soldier died of his wounds.
So how did this accident happen and what could have been done to prevent it? There were several opportunities to avoid the accident. First, the training battalion failed to stick to the unit and installation standing operating procedure that required all ammunition to be turned in following training events. Had the live round been turned in properly, this accident could have been prevented. Also, had the training ammunition been inspected prior to and following training as per the unit SOP, the live round could have been identified before the accident.
This accident might have also been prevented if the BCT Soldiers had received thorough training on the different types of ammunition and how to identify the differences between live and dummy rounds. During the initial classes on the U.S. weapons at the live-fire range, dummy ammunition was used as part of the instruction. Several Soldiers handled the live .50-caliber round that was located in the dummy ammunition can. One Soldier even asked the DI if it was a .50-caliber round, to which the DI replied it was. However, the DI was not close enough to realize that it was a live round. The Soldiers’ overconfidence in the DIs, coupled with their own lack of experience and confidence, led to a climate in which they did not question something that troubled them: Why did this round (the live round) look and feel different from the other dummy rounds? Therefore, the live round made its way back into the dummy ammunition can, where it was drawn for the training at the EST site.
Finally, why was the weapon pointed toward the bleachers? Doesn’t this go against all of the training we have received throughout our careers? The DI conducting the training was led into a false sense of safety because the EST site is not an actual range, but a simulation facility. The only ammunition that was supposed to be at the site was dummy ammo. Unfortunately, the leadership at the training site that day fell into the same false sense of safety and did not correct the DI’s weapon orientation.
We must never forget what has been ingrained into our heads as Soldiers and everyday citizens. From a BB gun to a .50-caliber machine gun, always orient a weapon in a safe direction. Remember, muzzle awareness saves lives.