Odierno Calls on Safety Team to Help Cut Non-Combat Deaths
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2007 An Army safety team soon will wrap up its month-long analysis conducted at the Multinational Corps Iraq commander’s request to find ways to stop the recent uptick in non-combat injuries and fatalities among deployed troops.
Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno (right), commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, called for a team of safety experts to determine why non-combat injuries are on the rise among his troops. Here, Odierno is pictured visiting Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood in July to gauge progress and meet with local Iraqi and American military commanders. Defense Department photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
A team from the Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center left its Fort Rucker, Ala., headquarters Sept. 29 at the bidding of Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno to get to the bottom of the problem. It is expected to return Oct. 21.
At issue is the increase in deaths and injuries unrelated to combat. Non-combat deaths began climbing in July and increased each month through September. The Defense Department reported 12 non-combat and 66 combat fatalities in July, 29 non-combat and 55 combat deaths in August, and 23 non-combat and 42 combat deaths in September.
The vast majority of fatalities were in the Army, which reported 27 non-combat deaths in August and 21 in September.
Seven soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team “Falcon Brigade” were killed Sept. 10 in western Baghdad when their 5-ton truck overturned. The wreck, which occurred as the unit was returning from a raid, left 10 soldiers injured. The accident is under investigation, but officials said it occurred when a tire blew out.
Fourteen soldiers died in an Aug. 22 Black Hawk helicopter crash during night operations in Multaka, killing all aboard. Four of the troops were assigned to the Fort Lewis, Wash.-based 4th Squadron, 6th U.S. Air Cavalry Regiment, and 10 were from the 25th Infantry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, based at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Officials said a mechanical malfunction is the likely cause of the crash.
Ground commanders in Iraq are “very focused” on the problem and have asked for help, Army Lt. Gen. Carter F. Ham, the Joint Staff’s operations director, told Pentagon reporters Oct. 16. “Safety is paramount and is a very, very high priority,” he said.
He noted that with the surge still in effect in Iraq and troop numbers up, it’s understandable that non-battle casualties might increase. He emphasized, however, that “even one non-battle casualty is one too many.”
Officials at the Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center call “leader engagement” vital to raising safety awareness and reducing accident rates. By identifying the problem and calling in safety experts for assistance, Odierno already has increased awareness throughout the theater, center spokeswoman Kelly Widener said.
“The MNCI command’s initiative and the actions to address safety demonstrate the commitment the Army has to protect its soldiers and formations from accidental loss,” Widener said. “The chain of command noted the recent trend and is actively engaging to address the situation and reverse the trend.”
In Iraq, the six-person safety team is collecting and analyzing information about accidents, not losses due to suicide, medical, criminal or other factors. Army Brig. Gen. William H. Forrester, commander of the Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center and Army safety director, joined the team Oct. 14 to review the team’s ongoing efforts and confer with commanders before briefing the Multinational Corps Iraq command group, Widener said.
He is expected to provide the team’s detailed analysis and recommend ways to stop deaths and injuries related to accidents “proactively and aggressively,” she said.
Non-hostile deaths have long been a problem for the military, both in peacetime and war. Especially during wartime, increased training and combat preparation pose additional risk, Widener noted.
“However, it is one of the Army’s top priorities to minimize that loss and learn from past trends,” she said. “Engaged leaders, awareness of best safety practices, accident trend recognition, and valuable safety tools … will fight against this accident loss and increased exposure.”
Trends point to factors that often contribute to non-combat-related accidents. In Army aviation, it’s frequently aircrews’ assumption that a mission is low-risk, coordination failures, or overconfidence, Widener reported. Ground losses commonly result from vehicle accidents, sports injuries, maintenance operations and weapons handling.
The military has introduced a wide variety of safety tools and initiatives to help increase safety awareness and reduce accidents, Widener noted.
The Commanders Aviation Risk Tool, for example, is an automated risk-management tool used in mission planning to assess each aviation mission’s risk.
Several tools focus on reducing ground accidents. Among them is the Humvee Egress Assistance Trainer, developed to reduce deaths from vehicle rollovers; improved emergency procedures in the event of a rollover; a driver’s training toolbox; and a pamphlet on safe weapons handling. Videos, newsletter, posters, magazines and other materials constantly reinforce the safety message, Widener said.
In addition, Army Materiel Command continually enhances military equipment to make it safer for troops, officials said. Among its initiatives are improved restraint systems, communication systems, fire-suppression systems and personal protective equipment, Widener said.