By Mike CastJune 29, 2011
May 21, 2009: Aberdeen Test Center employees Douglas Mauzy, Mark Henry and Joseph Gray were conducting an accuracy and fire-control test in a Soviet-era T-55 tank at the H-Field Firing Range on the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.
Henry was supporting the test as the tank commander, Gray was the gunner and Mauzy was driving the tank.
At about 9:30, the crew fired the second high-explosive round of the morning. After traveling about 16 inches down the barrel, the round exploded, according to an Army safety report.
As soon as he heard the explosion, fellow ATC employee Christopher Raab knew something went wrong. He directed Philip Sibley Jr. to contact the range tower and request medical assistance.
Raab grabbed co-worker Michael Williams, jumped into the ammunition truck and drove down the range road to where the tank had stopped. Raab and Williams ran 100 meters into the unexploded ordnance area and initiated the rescue effort. They extracted Henry from the tank and started CPR.
After contacting the range tower, Sibley ran after the tank, following its tracks through the swamp. When he arrived, he mounted the tank and helped Gray out. More ATC employees joined the effort. Kevin Banigan drove Anthony Hardy to the accident scene to help Mauzy, who had rolled off the tank into the swamp. Hardy, a contractor supporting the test center, carried him to the range road and administered first aid while Banigan went into the swamp to help.
Robert Puckett, another test center team member, remained at the range tower and helped coordinate medical assistance. Richard Drennan and Harry Poynter guided emergency medical technicians from the APG Fire Department to the accident site and helped move the injured testers from the swamp to a nearby berm.
Henry was pronounced dead at the scene, and a state medical evacuation helicopter flew Gray and Mauzy to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore. On June 5, 2009, Gray succumbed to his injuries. Mauzy, who received third-degree burns over more than 70 percent of his body, has undergone extensive surgeries to repair the burn damage and medical rehabilitation.
In a March 3 ceremony at APG’s recreation center, the civilian employees and contractor who supported the test mission that fateful day in 2009 were honored for their service.
Major Gen. Genaro Dellarocco, commanding general, Army Test and Evaluation Command, presented the Secretary of the Army Award for Valor to Banigan, Raab, Sibley and Williams, for risking their lives for their comrades. Richard Drennan, Harry Poynter and Robert Puckett received the Commander’s Award for Civilian Service for their support, and Hardy received an award from his company and a memorandum of appreciation signed by Col. Jeffrey Holt, ATC commander.
Mauzy, the only survivor from the range accident, was not in attendance, but was awarded the Superior Civilian Service Award for his support to ATC’s test mission during several years of federal service.
During their remarks at the award ceremony, Dellarocco and Holt praised the selfless service of the ATC test-support employees and the contracted employee who rendered aid on the day of the accident. They spoke of acts of heroism that day, as well as the many years of selfless service the accident victims and their companions have dedicated to the Army and Soldiers.
Holt said the awardees “did everything they could in the face of tragedy to take care of their teammates, and after the catastrophic explosion of that round, gave them every chance they could at life and recovery. They did that at great personal risk. They moved through unexploded ordnance to a vehicle that caught fire soon after it came to a halt.”
Dellarocco spoke of the selfless service that Army civilians and contractors provide to Soldiers, and noted that it can involve an equal measure of sacrifice. He said he read the report of what happened on the day of the accident “over and over,” and that it had a profound impact on him.
“The kind of work that they do here at Aberdeen is part of our national plan,” he said of test-support personnel at ATC. “They help us provide the very best equipment to the Department of Defense, and there is some risk involved. That was evident on that fateful day in May. They put the mission first. They never gave up. They didn’t accept defeat. No one turned and ran. They climbed aboard that burning vehicle, risking their own lives, and they didn’t leave a comrade behind.”
Of the accident victims, he said, “Every American fighting person counted on these gentlemen to execute their duties. In this case they were figuring out what the enemy was going to use against us so we could build better equipment and defeat theirs. Selfless service, that’s what it was.”
Editor’s note: An Army investigation of the accident did not pinpoint the exact cause of the explosion in the tank barrel, but it included various recommendations to enhance the safety of test personnel firing ordnance in support of the test mission.
Mike Cast works at the Army Developmental Test Command.