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The Army’s last armor-on-armor mishap like the one at Fort Bliss was more than 30 years ago

Remember the recent tank-on-tank incident at Fort Bliss in which an M1 Abrams main battle tank fired on another tank, injuring one soldier?

Well, it doesn’t happen very often.

The Army told Military Times that the last time something even like it took place was on Aug. 29, 1988, at a U.S. Army training area in Grafenwoehr, Germany, about 30 miles northeast of Nuremberg.

“The last similar misidentification incident took place approximately 32 years ago,” Army spokesman Jason Waggoner told Military Times in an email, “when an M-1 Abrams accidentally fired on two M-3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles.”

The Bradleys were both hit and one caught on fire, killing one American soldier and wounding four others, according to an archived story from United Press International. All of the soldiers were members of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.

Pvt. Jerry L. Westmoreland was killed by a shell traveling nearly five times the speed of sound fired from the M-1 tank two-thirds of a mile behind his Bradley Fighting Vehicle, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

His death just before midnight on Aug. 29, 1988, exposed a string of mistakes and misjudgments, compounded by equipment failure, that sealed the 20-year-old soldier’s fate and led the Army to investigate two of its own for murder. Among other issues, the tank’s gunner was having problems with his night vision equipment and had never fired at night before.

After investigating two soldiers for negligent homicide, investigators recommended only formal reprimands for the pair and five other soldiers, including four officers responsible for ensuring safety. Reprimands are the most lenient punishment.

“One must keep in mind that this was in fact a training accident where mistakes were made, and in my judgment no further judicial actions are necessary or required,” Brig. Gen. Thomas P. Barrett concluded, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The Army takes measures to prevent accidents like these from reoccurring. It continuously reviews and updates training and safety procedures and review all serious incidents, Waggoner said.

Officials from the 1st Armored Division are still investigating an incident involving an M1 Abrams main battle tank accidentally firing on another tank during a training exercise at Fort Bliss on July 20 — and these types of mishaps are extremely rare.

The training incident, during an M1 Abrams tank qualification exercise, was first reported by Defence Blog and confirmed to Military Times by Army officials.

According to Defence Blog, the exercise included shooting M1002 multi-purpose training rounds at moving targets. They said the Abrams tank hit another tank from its own cavalry regiment from a distance of 2,600 meters, or more than 1.5 miles.

One soldier was injured, received immediate medical assistance, and is recovering in stable condition, according to Lt. Col. Lindsey Elder, an Army public affairs officer.

1st Armored Division started an investigation into the incident last week, Elder said in an email to Military Times. It is still being conducted.

“Until the investigation is complete, we have no further comment,” she said.

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