In yesterday’s post about fatal negligent discharges in the military, a Marine blamed the deaths on a pervasive atmosphere of unsafe weapons handling. In a subsequent piece in Foreign Policy, an anonymous writer (evidently still serving) confirms a similar situation in the Army. Only this time, the tale is told from the perspective of someone who had an ND himself . . .
The anonymous author admits he was one of the first officers to commit an ND in Iraq; the experience has haunted his career ever since. But like the author of the first piece, he places a lot of blame on the Army’s general culture of poor training, lax procedures and severe punishment for anyone committing an ND.
Taken as a whole, the story’s something of a mixed bag of self-pitying rationalization and clear-eyed criticism. During the author’s second deployment, he became more aware of the Army’s gun safety problem. For example, every forward operating base had different areas and rules for clearing weapons.
At every echelon, from squad to Corps, I heard the question asked at least once– “If the weapon fires into the clearing barrel, why do we punish the soldier? He followed proper procedure, didn’t he?” No one attempted to say “because the weapon wouldn’t have gone off if he had followed proper procedure from the beginning.” No one attempted to give any answer at all.
Soldiers who did commit an ND faced harsh punishment. While the author had to dig a grave (yes, a grave) another soldier’s penance was to do hours of PT in the sun in front of the entire company.
Because of the harsh consequences for NDs, “some units forewent pulling the trigger at all (when clearing weapons), with commanders and NCO leaders at every level declaring they weren’t going to put their troops at risk of being punished for doing the right thing.”
The author seemed irritated, however, when he discovered that what was termed an ‘accidental discharge’ when he committed it, had later been given the new (and more accurate) name of ‘negligent discharge.’
It left the impression that the Army was institutionally no longer willing to consider that people have accidents. Every misfiring of a weapon was categorically an act of carelessness, and would be treated as such.
Sorry, but that’s a good thing. Whether it hurt his feelings or not.
He ultimately blames a lot of the Army’s problems on a culture chock full of testosterone and hoorah . . . and comes off as whiny in the process. Embedded within the grousing: observations about training and procedure that add more to the story. The evidence is mounting that the military has some serious problems with weapons training, procedure and safety. Wounded and killed soldiers are the result.