Thursday, January 08, 2004

When Length Matters 
Ok: I’m calling “Bullshit.”

Here’s an article about how 20,000 servicemen and women have been killed in accidents since 1980, while only 1,000 have been killed in combat.

Unfortunately, the article does not break out the number of soldiers killed in military vehicles; the 20,000 includes all the idiots in Germany who wrap their rented Mercedes Benzes around lightpoles on the autobahn after zu viele Bieren auf Der Stadt.

But believe me—the Pentagon has safety Nazis on the payroll who keep statistics to the nth degree. They can break this stuff out for you if you press them.

Nevertheless, 20,000 deaths in 23 years, and 575 deaths in just the last year alone, is a staggering number.

Here’s how to prevent some of them from happening in the future:

Note carefully the following paragraph from the story, which details the investigation into the accident which killed Lance Corporal Matthew Smith at the age of 20.

The report did not mention the radio, speedometer or seat belts being broken. It said Smith had "been given the opportunity to sleep for eight hours" before driving, consistent with Marine regulations. And it noted that Smith was not wearing his seat belt and that neither he nor Delk had their helmets on as ordered, though it acknowledged that wearing one would not have prevented Smith's death.

And therein lies my B.S. call.

Here’s a little experiment for some enterprising reporter: Go to the nearest Humvee and sit down in any of the seats. Put the seatbelt on.

Seatbelt works. Good seatbelt.

Now put on a flak vest and loadbearing vest. Throw in a protective mask for good measure. If you can get it to buckle, see if you can move and scan your sector. See if you can aim your weapon to the sides of the vehicle.

In short, see if the seatbelt passes the reality test.

It doesn’t.

The way the article reads, the accident report seems to be blaming the troops for not wearing the seatbelts. Now, maybe a seatbelt would have saved Smith’s life, and maybe not. But the blame for the seatbelt does not belong on Smith. Nor does it belong on the NCO in charge of the vehicle at the time.

The fact is that the stock seatbelts on the humvee are fine for garrison, but in the field, they’re useless for anything except providing political cover for the leadership that sent him out there with it.

“Oh, we’re not responsible. The soldier wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. In violation of policy, and all that, see?”

The reality is this: It’s either wear the flak jacket, or wear the seatbelt.

Now, I’ve heard rumors of the existence of 18-inch seatbelt extenders for the Humvee. I’ve never actually seen one, though. Those would do the trick in the short run—especially if the release catch could be moved to the center of the body or up near the door frame, rather then buried maddeningly under the passenger’s protective mask.

But despite repeated attempts at ordering them for our own fleet (at that time, 42 vehicles), both in the U.S. and in southwest Asia, through regular supply channels and maintenance/spare parts channels alike, I wasn’t able to get any. Nobody I could find knew the national stock number—or could even confirm that these gadgets existed.

If these gadgets don’t exist, they need to be manufactured, in bulk, and pronto. One for every humvee-seat in the fleet.

If they do exist, they need to be pushed to the units. Don’t wait around for supply sergeants to order them. They probably don’t even know they exist.

When that’s done, we need to get longer seatbelts in the vehicles. Removable extenders get lost. Or stolen by other units that have lost theirs. The change needs to be permanent.

I guarantee you—it’s going to save many lives in the years ahead.

Splash, Out


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