The Army set a record-low number of accident fatalities this fiscal year, officials confirmed just days before this year’s Association of the U.S. Army gathering.

In total, the Army lost 82 soldiers to fatal mishaps, a 22% decrease from the preceding year when 105 soldiers were lost, according to Army safety data released Friday.

While the reductions offer signs of improvement across the force, off-duty mishaps still remain the largest subset of total accidents, and a priority for the safety team that tracks and investigates them.

“Our current emphasis right now is driving down the off-duty mishaps, that’s where we historically take our greatest hit in our talent,” Brig. Gen. Gene Meredith, director of the service’s safety and commander of the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, told Army Times.

Meredith, who took over as the center’s leader in June, does not have command authority over the entire Army for safety, but he and his team at Fort Rucker, Alabama, are analyzing data to offer guidance on how to prevent tragic incidents.

Off-duty mishaps typically involve an accident with a soldier’s private vehicle, like a car or motorcycle, according to the Combat Readiness Center’s annual reports.

The Army set its previous record low of off-duty fatalities in fiscal 2020, with 72 soldiers killed. According to the Friday data, off-duty soldier fatalities reached a historic low in fiscal 2022, with 67 soldiers lost.

In part, Meredith and his team attribute this milestone to targeted time-period campaigns, as opposed to standard monthly email blasts, that analyze trends to find when off-duty soldiers are more prone to injure themselves.

Busy summer travel, family time around the holidays, or when motorcyclists hit the road during warm-weather seasons all represent cases when the center has fired up its messaging to stem accidents.

As a Harley rider himself, the commanding general said he took a keen interest in joining the Army’s safety team, and in particular helping reduce motorcycle accidents.

The Combat Readiness Center team also investigates on-duty accidents, especially aviation accidents, which also saw a record-setting year in fiscal 2022.

“For the first time in history, the aviation community did not lose a single crew member in an aviation mishap,” a Friday statement from the Combat Readiness Center reads. “While there were four Class A flight mishaps, defined by the total loss of an aircraft, fatality, or more than $2.5M in damage, it was the lowest annual total in Army history and the rate of Class A mishap per 100,000 flying hours was also a historic low.”

But on the ground, some uncommon on-duty accidents over the last 12 months have still led to questions over how prepared the service is at keeping its troops safe.

For example, in July, a soldier was killed by a lightning strike; in August, two troops were killed after a tree fell on them in a storm; and in May, a service member in Alaska died from a bear attack.

Meredith described those incidents as statistical anomalies that “were really beyond a commander’s ability to control.” Regardless, he said, his team always investigates because of the potential to learn lessons.

Going forward, his center says for both on- and off-duty troops it will focus its messaging efforts on first-line leaders who are closest to younger enlisted soldiers that make up a majority of the fatalities.

“It’s safer today to be a soldier in the United States Army than it is to be a member in the general population,” according to Meredith. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2020 (the most recent data available) there were 4,764 fatal work injuries recorded, the lowest since 2013.

Although he knows most people think it’s unachievable, Meredith wants to reduce the number of mishaps to zero.

“Even the loss of one soldier to a mishap is unacceptable.”

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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