FORT RUCKER, Ala. – For nearly 12 years, Soldiers and Civilians have deployed in support of overseas contingency operations. As units ramp up for deployment, sustain operations and then redeploy, there's an increased potential for accidents to happen.
Serving as a task force aviation safety officer, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Bob Roebuck witnessed a lot during his unit's 14-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Roebuck, now an aviation accident investigator for the U.S. Army Combat Readiness / Safety Center, reflected on his time while serving as his unit's principal safety officer.
"Deployment operations encompass a myriad of moving pieces and parts, literally," he said. "From personnel, equipment and supplies, when a unit deploys, it's a massive logistical effort, and it's important that Soldiers don't abandon safety while completing their missions. Safety is such a constant in Soldier's lives, they sometimes become complacent."
Army safety professionals can be valuable assets in preparing an organization and its Soldiers for deployment. They're trained to provide guidance and conduct training on various topics including, but not limited to, driver / crew training, hot and cold weather injury / illness prevention, food and water consumption, fatigue, ammunition storage, weapons safety, radiation safety and laser injury prevention.
Historically, operating or riding in a military vehicle is one of the leading causes of serious on-duty injuries.
"The likelihood of a preventable accident occurring is slim when personnel are licensed and trained on the equipment they'll operate and help load for a unit's movement," Roebuck said. "Soldiers should also wear the appropriate personal protective equipment when conducting rail, port or cargo-loading missions."
During his deployment to Iraq, Maj. John Strain, an occupational health manager for the Georgia Army National Guard, and his unit's leaders saw firsthand the effects of complacency and worked tirelessly to educate their Soldiers and mitigate preventable losses.
"I'm a firm believer that the only way for us to conduct operations in an acceptable risk environment is when Soldiers properly perform precombat checks, leaders thoroughly conduct precombat inspections, and commands report and investigate even the most benign violation of safety standards," he said. "Soldiers are human, and we make mistakes. However, if we don't learn from mistakes, we will pay with our life and the lives of our comrades."
Historically, not following set procedures and standards are major factors in accidents that happen downrange.
"It's important that everyone, not just leaders and safety professionals, reiterate the standards and never let them slip," Roebuck said. "When erosion of appropriate behaviors is tolerated, it becomes a practice and eventually a problem."
As units prepare to redeploy, Roebuck cautions Soldiers against losing sight of the mission while they're still in country.
"Mission first is the most important thing, always," he said. "'Get-home-itis' can get in the way and open the door for complacency and indiscipline. We (leaders) need to ensure that our Soldiers stay focused. Our unit used the CAVF methodology – coordinate, anticipate, verify and follow up – which served us well."
The U.S. Army Combat Readiness / Safety Center's Ground Directorate has developed a guide to assist safety professionals in advising their commands in preparing and maintaining accident prevention programs. The guide is available at https://safety.army.mil/
deploymentguide (AKO login required).