By Retired Sgt. Maj. Tony SmithMarch 18, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. - Safety is such a constant part of a Soldier's life they sometimes get complacent. After a while, one of two things usually happens: Soldiers forget about the measures that kept them safe because there have been no accidents, or they become focused on the outcome of a mission instead of their well-being. Often, the prime time for this to happen is when a unit is in the process of redeploying.
Based on my experience, I'm convinced the most dangerous time for a Soldier during deployment is near the end. Safety is normally the last thing on a Soldier's mind. During the relief-in-place or transfer-of-authority is when most accidents occur. Soldiers lose focus of the redeployment mission and start thinking about what they'll be doing when they get home. Risk management often becomes an afterthought.
During one of my deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, there was a notable period of increased accidents. Soldiers' frequent trips to the aid station coincided with our unit's RIP/TOA phase. Their injuries weren't mission related; the majority of Soldiers ending their tour were no longer being sent out. They were passing the time by playing football and basketball and, unfortunately, hurting themselves. There were so many Soldiers medically evacuated out of theater that the forward operating base commander put a restriction on all sports. That decision drastically reduced the number of Soldiers reporting to the aid station for sports-related injuries.
In retrospect, if leaders would've conducted proper risk management throughout the deployment, many of these accidents might not have happened. Sports-related activities seem harmless enough, but if Soldiers don't take proper precautions and protect themselves and their battle buddies, injuries are sure to occur.
Our Soldiers involved in moving equipment to the embarkation and departure points were especially susceptible to accidents. Before our equipment was loaded onto a ship, it needed to be meticulously washed, inspected and packed by these Soldiers. A wash rack can be considered a death trap if not used safely because at any given time, a number of vehicles are maneuvering in a very confined space. There's a tendency for drivers to whip around the wash rack, trying to get their vehicles cleaned quickly and ready for transport. Other Soldiers in the area become vulnerable to impatient drivers and their vehicles.
Once the vehicles left the cleaning area, they had to be staged in the inspection area. After passing inspection, they were ready for shipment. Any movement of vehicles is dangerous, and when these Soldiers moved vehicles onto the ship, extra vigilance and attention to detail ensured none of our troops was hurt. We incorporated risk management during the military decision-making process for this operation and there were no personnel injuries.
Soldiers need to stay focused and not lose sight of the mission, even when they're just a plane ride away from home. Incorporate risk management into all missions, not just during deployment/redeployment. Talk to your Soldiers about the decisions they make and why they make them. Soldiers always talk. It takes a good leader to listen.
DID YOU KNOW?
The USACR/Safety Center has a reference guide intended to assist safety professionals in advising their commands in preparing and maintaining accident prevention programs before, during and after deployment. The Deployment Guide for Brigade Combat Team Safety Professionals covers a myriad of common hazards, potential controls, TTPs and lessons learned for topics such as base operations, ammunition and explosives storage and handling, vehicle and convoy operations and weapons handling. The guide also offers links to briefings, checklists, sample standard operating procedures and risk management worksheets, relevant publications, posters, videos, websites and toolboxes. Much of the content comes from previously deployed safety professionals. Check it out today by visiting https://safety.army.mil/deploymentguide (AKO login required).