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Top Enlisted Member Says He’s Alive Because Someone ‘Checked It’

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2007 – On a cold, rainy Christmas morning in 2004 in Iraq, a small group of soldiers huddled before a patrol.

The first sergeant introduced the group to a new way to steer out of a spin if a Humvee were to start sliding into a canal. The patrol would be passing canals. If a driver were to steer incorrectly, the vehicle would overturn and drown those trapped inside, the first sergeant said. Steer correctly, the Humvee would not turn over, and everyone lives.

Before pulling out that morning, the first sergeant checked again with each driver, looked them in the eyes and made sure they understood his instructions. That single action saved the life of Army Command Sgt. Major William J. Gainey, now serving as the nation’s top enlisted member.

As it happened, the Humvee in which Gainey was riding during that patrol did spin near a canal. The driver responded correctly, and all walked away from the incident. Gainey directly attributes surviving the accident to the first sergeant’s actions.

“Twenty-five December 2004 should have been my headstone, but because he checked it, I am here talking to you today,” Gainey said in an interview about the Defense Department’s “Check-It” campaign. “Because of him checking it -- he checked to make sure everyone understood his intent … -- because he did that, I didn’t drown.”

The Check-it campaign began in 2006 to increase awareness of the effectiveness of internal controls across all functions in the military to save lives, preserve resources and make the best use of taxpayer dollars.

Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, supports the program whole-heartedly. He said checks are fundamental to the success of the military as an organization and are key to safety.

“If you check each other, you will prevent deficiencies from happening. People who don’t help correct the problems or ignore them become part of the problem,” Gainey said.

Servicemembers don’t have to be designated leaders to “check it,” he said.

Junior enlisted servicemembers should check their buddies. Also, everyone should carry checklists, Gainey said. He carries one daily in his wallet.

“If you don’t have a checklist, shame on you. Your old mind can only remember so much,” Gainey said.

The command sergeant major said that if he was “king for a day” he would put every servicemember through the Army’s jumpmaster course for senior paratroopers. The course is heavy on teaching proper inspections and teaches servicemembers “what right looks like” when it comes to making checks.

Gainey said Check-It applies to troops stationed everywhere, not just in combat. It especially can be applied to combating terrorism.

“If you are passing someone down the hall in the Pentagon (or on any installation) who looks out of place and is not normal, stop him,” Gainey said. “Anything could happen. When you see something that looks out of the norm, check into it immediately.

“We pass each other too much, and we never stop to look and see if something looks out of the norm. That concerns me,” Gainey said. “Don’t wait to check it out, because it could be too late. And be embarrassed. I’d rather you make an honest human mistake and stop something that could have been devastating … than just walk by it and let it go.”

Gainey also said buddy-checks could stem servicemember suicides. He said junior enlisted troops should be checking their buddies, especially those who return from combat, to make sure they are not suffering from signs of depression or trauma. The sergeant major said he understands that troops don’t want to appear disloyal to their buddies by referring them to their commands, but it could save their lives.

“You don’t want to be a rat. You don’t want to be a squealer. In reality, if you did that, you would be a true friend,” he said.

Gainey said every servicemember should reflect on where their actions fit into the Check-It campaign.

“I would challenge every troop from E-1 to E-9 to really look at the Check-It program and say, ‘Where do I fit into this equation? What can I do as an individual to help this program be successful?’” Gainey said. “If you do that, you will save lives. If you don’t do that, you could be the reason someone doesn’t live through the mission.”

Contact Author

Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, USA

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