We took road trips, hiked mountains and even found an old abandoned railroad trestle to climb across that spanned a gap about 80 feet above a river. On this particular day, the activity was horseback riding. A buddy of mine was hosting his going-away party and asked if any of us would like to try a little riding. Having never ridden a horse, and secure in the knowledge of my own invincibility, I decided to give it a go. At first, I did pretty well. As I gained confidence in my newly discovered riding skills, I decided I wanted to go faster. The horse was all too happy to oblige my request for more speed and, like me, ignored the concerns of my buddy, who was saying something about being careful.
It was about this time that I realized two things. The first was horses don't have much in the way of natural “holds.” Without a saddle, I found myself beginning to slowly slide to one side of the horse. This brought me to my second realization. While a well-trained horse will slow down with a gentle tug on the reins, this particular horse had a mind of his own. Just about then, my train of thought was interrupted by a disorienting weightless feeling, followed by an unceremonious landing a few inches from the horse’s hooves. Fortunately for me, no real damage was done, aside from some minor scrapes and bruises.
My first experience with horseback riding (or horseback falling, as we later dubbed it), made for some funny stories. But the tendency of Soldiers to engage in risk-taking behavior immediately before and after a deployment is no laughing matter. I was lucky; my reminder that I'm not invincible came in the form of a minor, although painful, fall. Many aren't so lucky.
Far too many Soldiers are seriously injured, or even killed, when they engage in risk-taking behavior immediately before or after a deployment. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to knows someone who had been hurt or had a near miss in the months during their deployment preparation or their recovery period following redeployment. Whether it’s the result of feeling invincible or wanting to experience one more thrill before heading oversees, these risky behaviors are a real threat to the safety and mission-effectiveness of our troops.
As safety professionals and Leaders, it’s our responsibility to stay engaged with our Soldiers during the entire deployment process. This includes preparation and recovery. By being alert for signs of high-risk behavior, we not only show our Soldiers we care, we could save a life.

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Off Duty, On Guard

Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command
Fort Monroe, Va.

“How can the Army prevent off-duty accidents?” Commanders, supervisors and other Leaders in positions of authority have been asking that very question without much success over the past several years. The Army has made some pretty good progress in reducing on-duty accidents and fatalities, but as those incidents decrease, we’re losing a far greater percentage of our Soldiers to accidents suffered during non-duty time.
As a way of expanding the conversation on off-duty accidents and offering reasonable solutions to some of the challenges faced by our Soldiers, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command has produced a video game in the form of an interactive video virtual experience entitled “Off Duty, On Guard.” This innovative tool allows viewers to play the parts of various characters, make decisions and see the consequences of their choices. The vignettes are entertaining and based on actual accident experiences. The storylines and characters are believable and easy to identify with, and while not being “preachy,” convey a message of what right looks like when prudent, reasonable choices are made.
The video is split into two stories, “Full Throttle” and “On the Waterfront.” “Full Throttle” features three main characters (Mags, Vans and Twitchy) with three different storylines, all dealing with vehicle safety issues. Mags’ story deals primarily with privately owned vehicle safety; Vans’ segment covers all-terrain vehicles and off-road safety; and Twitchy’s video covers motorcycle safety.
“On the Waterfront” is a story about six Soldiers spending a Saturday on the lake. Obviously, the tale is about boating and water safety. There are also three main characters (Frickman, Diaz and Grimes) that play major roles in this vignette. Unlike “Full Throttle,” there is only one storyline and choosing the different characters allows the viewer to see how each character’s actions (or inactions) affect outcomes.
This video is extremely user-friendly and can be presented in a variety of ways (individual, small groups, classroom). It’s available now for your spring and summer off-duty safety campaigns at http://www.tradoc.army.mil/offdutyonguard/.
Remember, this tool is not a magic solution to solve all our off-duty safety challenges. It is only the beginning of many potentially productive conversations; how productive they are depends on how effectively you and other Leaders use the tool.