The Army lost fewer soldiers to on-duty training accidents in fiscal 2021 than in “any other reporting period on record,” officials from the service’s Combat Readiness Center said in an Oct. 21 release.
According to safety data from the release, only 20 soldiers died in on-duty accidents this past fiscal year. Nine of those deaths occurred in ground accidents, and 11 soldiers died in aviation crashes, including five who died in Egypt in November 2020 when a stabilizer failed on their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
The number of deaths in fiscal 2021 was four lower than that of any prior fiscal year, the release added.
The total was lower than even the 24 on-duty accidental deaths that occurred during fiscal 2020, which saw training grind to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CRC spokesperson Angela Welch noted in the release. Before fiscal 2020, the lowest level of on-duty accidental deaths was 26, which occurred in fiscal 2018 and 2019, according to the release.
“Leaders at every echelon should be proud of this accomplishment,” said Brig. Gen. Andrew C. Hilmes, who directs CRC and is the Army’s top safety officer. “While one Soldier lost to a preventable mishap is one too many, we see in the results that engaged leadership is fundamental to loss prevention.”
Welch said that the Army attributes the improvements to two data-driven information campaigns launched by CRC following an analysis of accident data from fiscal 2014 to 2019.
The organization identified that, historically, one-third of ground accident deaths have occurred during the third quarter of the fiscal year, “specifically during May and June,” Welch said in the release.
They also found a similar historical spike in fatal aviation accidents in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year, which CRC attributed to “environmental conditions, as well as personnel and leader turnover” stemming from the Army’s traditional summer window for NCOs and officers to execute permanent change-of-station moves.
CRC engaged leaders across the force about the historical danger periods, Welch explained in the release, and the accident numbers dropped dramatically during those periods in fiscal 2021.
No fatal aviation mishaps occurred between July and September, and only one fatal ground accident took place between April and June of this year.
The Army has also been working to implement the recommendations of a recent Government Accountability Office report on tactical vehicle accidents. The GAO report faulted the Army and Marine Corps for inadequate drivers training and lapses in supervision that led to a spate of deaths last decade.
Over the past few years, the service has worked to improve the oversight of its decentralized drivers training program and clarify the responsibilities of the master drivers charged with running the training at the unit level.
But the Army has seemingly stopped short of adding additional “performance criteria and measurable standards” to train drivers beyond an initial road test — a deficiency that the GAO highlighted in the report.
Off-duty deaths continue to rise
Even as the Army is successfully implementing strategies to reduce on-duty accidental deaths, more and more soldiers are dying in after-hours accidents, according to the release.
“Off-duty mishaps continue to be the greatest killer of Soldiers, accounting for 87 deaths,” a 20 percent increase from fiscal 2020, Welch said in the release.
“Army officials partially attribute the increase to off-duty complacency as Soldiers returned to ‘normal’ after nearly a year of COVID-19 restrictions,” Welch added.
Car deaths are one potential culprit.
Data from the National Safety Council showed a major spike in car deaths during calendar 2020, and 2021 is on pace to surmount the previous year’s highs.
“Addressing off-duty risky behaviors in our younger Soldiers, primarily in the 18-24 year age group, remains one of our greatest challenges,” said Hilmes, the CRC director. “Getting our junior leaders the tools and information they need to influence those underneath them will be the USACRC’s priority in the coming year.”
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.