In the shadow of the Green Safety Dot

06Sep13

This essay was published in two parts by BreachBangClear.com on September 4th and 5th.

http://www.breachbangclear.com/site/10-blog/473-the-tyranny-of-risk-assessments-in-the-military-pt-1.html
http://www.breachbangclear.com/site/10-blog/474-the-tyranny-of-risk-assessments-in-the-military-pt-2.html

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No joke there I was, at a National Guard training camp’s range. This was in mid-2002, not long after the Twin Towers fell. I was in a tank unit, and we were pretty sure we’d be in combat somewhere in the Middle East before long.

I waited my turn to get on the firing line. My First Sergeant wandered among the troops doing something. I didn’t pay attention, until he walked to me with something flat and green in his hand.

“Let me see your watch,” he ordered. He looked pissed off.

I held out my wrist, puzzled. “What’s up, Top?”

He started peeling something off the flat green thing he was holding. “I have to put something on your watch face.”

I took a closer look at the object in his hand. It was a sheet full of adhesive green dots. He pulled one dot off, set it on his finger and reached toward me.

I drew my arm back. “What the hell is that for, Top?”

The First Sergeant gave me an exasperated look. “Give me your damn watch. I have to put this on it. It’s a green safety dot.”

A green safety dot? What’s that? “I don’t want that crap on my watch, Top. What’s it for, anyway?”

Anger flashed in the First Sergeant’s eyes. I knew it wasn’t anger at me. “It’s an order that just came down through battalion. We have to put these dots on everyone’s watches, so every time you look at your watch, you’ll think safety.”

Look at your watch and think safety. Even today, the memory of that phrase irks me.

I gave him an expression that fell somewhere between disgust and insubordination. Here I was, a combat arms, tank gunner sergeant, probably about to go to war, and someone wanted me to put this ridiculous dot on my watch so I’d always “think safety”. The term itself made me want to puke. I could almost imagine some guy in a pink uniform with a tutu, prancing around to the Village People, shrieking “Think safetyyyyyyyyyyy!” at the top of his high-pitched, effeminate lungs.

I exploded, “I’m not a f**king child, Top! That’s the stupidest sh*t I’ve ever heard! I’m not going to put that stupid ass dot on my watch!”

He blew up back at me, “Yes you are! That’s the damn order, just do it!”

We had a short shouting match over it. Within seconds, I realized the horrible situation he was in: he had to enforce a pathetically stupid, nonsensical, juvenile order. He knew soldiers like me would fight it, because we’re adults who were prepared to fight and possibly die in combat; we didn’t want anyone holding our hands and making sure we “think safety”. But he still had to carry the order out. Some colonel or major decided, “Hey, this is a great idea!” and sold it to their commander, who then ordered all the sergeants major and first sergeants to make it happen. Top couldn’t ignore it, and couldn’t publicly agree with me about it.

I decided to let him off the hook. I pulled my watch off and said, “Fine, Top. Give me the stupid f**king dot.”

He handed it to me. I stuck it on the bottom of the watch. “There. Now if some moron asks about it, you can honestly say I have the damn dot on my watch.”

Top nodded in appreciation and walked off to look for the next victim. He probably told every soldier after me to put the dot on the bottom of the watch. He was a good First Sergeant, well respected within the company. This was a man who actually teared up as he told us how he almost refused a promotion, because as a First Sergeant he would never again command a tank (to tankers, that’s a huge deal; I still feel like crying over it, and I haven’t been in a tank in 9 years). He was a good man, forced to act like a nanny to a group of grown men who were training for war. Handing out the green dots hurt him right in the soul.

At the time, I thought the “green safety dot” fiasco was just one person’s stupid idea that got out of hand. I thought the “war is hell, get used to it” mindset I had learned in the Marine Corps would permeate the Army, especially since we were at war. I thought nobody would try to make Soldiers, especially combat arms soldiers, into risk-averse worry warts.

A year later I went to Phase I of the Basic Non-Commissioned Officer Course (BNCOC). There, instructors beat a mantra into our heads: “I don’t care what you’re doing, you MUST have a Risk Assessment for it.” A Risk Assessment was an examination of whatever activity we were doing, plotted on a chart, identifying dangers and specifying ways to mitigate them. Not a bad idea if you’re storming a beach, or conducting squad live fire training, or even practicing land navigation on a blazing hot day. But we had to write up and brief Risk Assessments for everything.

One of our tasks was to give a class about what job we did in the military. To pass this task, we had to brief the Risk Assessment during our introduction. So a parade of sergeants went to the podium and began their classes with, “Make sure you don’t trip over power cords. Don’t fall asleep and poke yourself in the eye with a pencil. Don’t get a paper cut. If we get hit by a hurricane [you know, since they strike without warning], the latrines are designated storm shelters.”

I sat in class awaiting my turn, fuming at what I saw, and still see, as a desperate attempt to beat the motivation out of combat troops. So we’re supposed to charge into machine gun fire if need be, keep going while our friends are killed around us, not quit the fight even if we suffer crippling injuries, but a classroom in peacetime America is so dangerous we have to be warned not to hurt ourselves during a lecture?

My turn came. I walked to the podium and started my introduction. I talked about my military background, my unit, and my civilian job. I told the class what I was going to lecture them about. Our lead instructor sat at the back of the class, checking off which required points I mentioned. I knew he was waiting for me to address the Risk Assessment. I stopped talking, looked over my fellow students with a dejected shrug, and said this:

“Risk Assessment. If you manage to hurt yourself during my class, you f**king deserve it.” Then I went on with my presentation.

The instructor kept looking at his checklist, but his eyes went wide. He made a mark. Later, when he sat down with me to discuss my grade, he pointed to the Risk Assessment box. It was checked. He smirked a little and said, “You mentioned the words ‘Risk Assessment’. Good enough for me.”

So I made it, even though I knew when I blew off the Risk Assessment and dropped the F bomb I risked failing out of the course. I was happy the instructor, an old-school Sergeant, thought as little of the Risk Assessment requirement as I did. But I also noted something else: nobody but me argued. Every other student in the class just rolled over, took it right in their fourth point of contact and blathered on about nonexistent dangers in our classroom. That was a sign of bad things to come.

In 2004 I was called up for Iraq (if my wife asks, I did NOT volunteer). And surprisingly, during trainup we weren’t murdered with safety rules. There were dumb things, like an urban combat instructor blowing up at a student for firing a blank round within ten feet of him. But overall, nobody beat us to death with risk assessments. In Iraq in 2005 we were pretty much left to our own devices about safety. I had the faint hope that mister “green safety dot” had actually gone on a real mission, had the crap scared out of him, and decided never to try that stupid nonsense again.

But after Iraq, the risk assessment monster started raising its head again. My friends in the regular Army told stories of having their vehicles inspected and having to turn in risk assessments on Friday afternoons before weekends off. Suddenly, Soldiers were wearing reflective belts everywhere. When I went to Afghanistan three years later, bases like Bagram were so choked with safety rules that many troops would literally rather take their chances getting killed on a patrol than get screamed at for safety violations. Speed limits were ridiculously low. Reflective belts had to be worn after sunset. Troops running on the road in the morning couldn’t wear sunglasses. If a Soldier was going to drive a “Gator” 4-wheeler, he had to wear a helmet, eye protection and reflective belt. And attend a “Gator safety class”.

In Afghanistan, commanders kept adding safety rule after safety rule. Some troops had to wear every piece of body armor they had, even on missions where they carried crushing weight up and down mountains. Units were forbidden from going on missions in any vehicle smaller than a huge MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle). Not only did this severely inhibit some units’ abilities to carry out missions, it also made the Afghans, in their Ford Ranger pickup trucks, think we weren’t willing to take the same risks they were. That didn’t help build respect between our armies.

Many of the troops believed the rules weren’t as much to keep us alive as they were a Cover Your Ass exercise for the leadership. “My soldier got shot by a sniper? Not my fault. I made him turn in a risk assessment and wear his body armor with Kevlar collar, throat guard, groin protector, shoulder attachments, side plates, helmet with nape pad, gloves and eye protection. So he was too weighed down to run to cover? Maybe so, but he didn’t die due to his leadership’s failure to document and mitigate risk.”

Of course, this wasn’t true in all cases. Many leaders genuinely believed all the armor and risk assessing would protect their troops. In some cases, they were right. In others, all the armor and risk assessments showed was a lack of appreciation for the operating environment. And maybe a lack of backbone.

I was extremely fortunate to be at an outlying firebase instead of Bagram, where I was more or less shielded from the safety craze. Nobody wore reflective belts where I was. You could drive a Gator naked and high on crack, and nobody would say a word. The war was not far outside the wire, and we had to become real soldiers, real quick.

By the time I came home, the War on Terror had lasted 9 years. In Afghanistan I saw that we soldiers had become more skilled, aggressive and eager for battle. The highest levels of the Army, however, seemed to have gone the opposite direction. And, in a development that terrifies me, too many troops seem to be following them.

I’ve seen Soldiers running on closed tracks, in broad daylight, in civilian clothes, wearing reflective belts. At a recent training exercise a senior NCO ordered everyone to wear reflective belts at ALL times, everywhere on a tiny National Guard base where nothing happens. And to always have a battle buddy. So we wouldn’t get raped.

Not long ago I was looking for a place to give a small group of Soldiers a physical fitness test. Just pushups, situps and a two mile run, early in the morning. We tried planning it at one base. But at that base you have to submit a request and risk assessment over a week beforehand. And have a medic present. And an aid bag. And ice water. And a cooling blanket. For pushups, situps and a two mile run.

So we tried another base. And found out we could use its track anytime we wanted. If we had a risk assessment. And a medic. And an aid bag. And ice water. And a cooling blanket. For pushups, situps and a two mile run.

I seem to recall, back in the late 80’s and 90’s, just going out for runs with my unit. No medics or corpsmen were around. No ice water or cooling blankets. Canteens and bottled water, sure. We kept eyes on each other in case of heat casualties. But we didn’t treat an easy PT test as if it was a combat mission. And gosh darn it, I don’t remember seeing Marines and Soldiers dropping dead from two mile runs.

Back then we didn’t have policies that convince troops any risk is to be avoided if at all possible. Heck, we might have even welcomed risks. After all, we were training for war. We expected to be in life-threatening situations. We wanted to be on the two-way range. To a degree, the risk-taking urge that inhabits most Soldiers and all Marines was then, and should be now, nurtured. It’s a necessary part of being an effective warrior.

No, that doesn’t mean we need to be suicidal kamikazes. It does mean we accept that combat is a dangerous world, where even those who take every precaution can still be killed or wounded. It means we embrace the courage of those who disregard mortal danger and do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. It means we shouldn’t reduce bravery to a chart balancing risk versus safety. It means we don’t train Soldiers to believe something as mundane as talking in a classroom requires a careful analysis of danger (no, not even if it’s just a training method). It means we shouldn’t act as if a physical fitness test, which we’re all supposed to be able to pass at a moment’s notice, requires mission planning more worthy of a combat patrol.

I hate to say this, but I’ve seen experienced soldiers – GOOD Soldiers – embrace the Army’s risk aversion. I’ve had sergeants ask, when I suggested we just run our PT test on a civilian high school track without a medic, “But what if something happens?” I’ve seen a fantastic training exercise shut down because we were going to fire Simunition rounds (soap pellets, similar to paintball rounds) at each other. Sim rounds are designed, intended to be fired at people. The trainers had all the protective gear we needed. But a senior officer thought “That’s just too dangerous.” I’ve seen an instructor on a range not allow Soldiers to run a simple drill, just a 40 meter sprint with an unloaded weapon and no gear, over flat ground in broad daylight, because “Somebody might get hurt.”

This kills me. High school kids run on high school tracks every day, without a medic. Preteen girls play paintball. Civilians with no military experience participate in dynamic shooting matches every weekend, where they run around on flat ground with weapons. But it’s too dangerous for Soldiers? For combat vets?

We didn’t join the military to be 100% safe all the time. If we wanted that, we wouldn’t have joined. We’d never even leave the house, much less endure years of training, travel thousands of miles and suffer through Army-inspired utter foolishness, for the chance to bail out of an MRAP or humvee into a firefight just once in our lives.

Sometimes I wonder when the Army is just going to hang rape whistles around our necks. And make us attend mandatory “Stranger danger!” classes. And issue those ropes with multiple different colored handles like preschools use, so platoon leaders can pull their troops around like children.

Haha. Just kidding, Army. No matter how tempting it might be, please don’t try to actually do these things. Or all the Soldiers, the warriors, who really want combat will just say “Screw the Army” and get out. And all you’ll be left with are troops with green dots on their watches who think a classroom lecture is so dangerous they need a risk assessment for it.

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61 Responses to “In the shadow of the Green Safety Dot”

  1. I have personally experience the green safety dot bullshit. I thought it was just some dickweed in my chain of command, but to my horror as Iread this I realized that this particular stupidity was apparently widespread.

    This shit is like a cancer. You see soldiers, VOLUNTARILY wearing a stupid glow in the dark belt in the middle of the damn day.

    Really pisses me off. However, a sharp NCO can drop the “S” word and sometimes keep from having to do something stupid, sometimes….

    • Since I wrote this I’ve gained the unfortunate knowledge that the Safety Dot was NOT limited to my former NG battalion. I hadn’t realized how widespread this safety thing was. I’ve also seen soldiers voluntarily wearing PT belts in the middle of the day, and recently heard another 1SG say he saw a soldier mowing grass wearing a PT belt, eye protection, gloves and kevlar helmet. Yeah, the safety thing is there for a reason, but it’s gotten pretty ridiculous.

      • 3 JKosprey

        I have to say, I’ve been known to wear my PT belt during the day….not because I feel that it increases my safety, but because it’s been indoctrinated in me as “part of the PT uniform”. Any wear of a reflective belt in a combat setting or in camos is absolutely retarded.

  2. 4 SPEMack

    Good piece, Chris.

    I remember being informed that my Swiss Army Knife, by virtue of not having a lock back blade, wasn’t safe.

    And Lord, do I hate my reflective belt. I was Mister Billy Badass, let me tell you, I got in some serious trouble because I had the gall to walk around in my PTs, boots, with GREY Columbia socks, no reflective belt, and a para cord bracelet.

    Gah, Big Army is pretty effing stupid sometimes.

    • Mack,

      Sometimes I think Big Green is intentionally trying to run people out of the Army. Another essay I wrote that will be published later describes guys at Bagram being forced to carry carbines at the combat ready, while walking on Disney drive, while wearing a PT belt and saluting officers.

      Who the hell thinks these are good ideas?

  3. At Disneyland, one of the standard wisecracks at the end of the Jungle Cruise is “Gentlemen, if your mother-in-law is still aboard this boat, you’ve missed a golden opportunity.”

    I’m thinking the same thing about the Army if they didn’t manage to send the “Safety First” a-holes on mine-clearing missions in the last two wars with naught but a nail in the end of a short stick. At night. Unarmed.

    • I think we lost that opportunity long ago. When safety-mindedness first made its Army appearance, it made sense. It should have been implemented appropriately, rather than being overblown as it has.

  4. Damn fine post Chris. Nice to see you kept your wits about you.

    Reflective belts, risk averse behavior, things are getting shaky!

  5. 9 Old AF Sarge

    Damn fine post Chris. Glad to see you kept your wits about you!

    Reflective belts, risk avoidance, insane safety briefs. Geez, when did the Air Force take over the Army?

    • Sarge,

      I honestly don’t know when this happened. It just seemed to suddenly explode a few years ago. And now I don’t know that senior levels of the Army know how to get it under control. I mean, what officers wants to back off on a safety rule now? Their careers would suffer if a soldier was hurt afterwards.

  6. 11 Dave L.

    I remember the edict about not going out in anything less than an MRAP…it happened right after the Panjshir PRT got hit by a suicide VBIED whilst driving an up-armored HMMWV. Killed all 4 pax. Roughly 30 klicks or so from BAF.

    And the most dangerous drivers on BAF were the SOF wackers. They’d go screaming down Disney – the busy area between the USO, the PX, and the main chow hall – like a bunch of good old boys getting crazy with their 4-wheelers in a mud hole.

    I hate idiotic, over-the-top nannyish safety rules as much as anyone – but even more, I hate the morons who do the stupid sh*t that causes the rules to get made in the first place.

    • Dave,

      I also remember that hit. It happened on a route we always thought was safe. One of my friends in the civilian world is a reserve Civil Affairs officer, and he was good friends with the PRT commander who was killed. Another friend of mine was a friend of the female humvee driver. Amazingly enough, the gunner survived.

      I can see a reason for some, SOME, safety rules. But whenever someone does something stupid, the Army way overreacts and treats all of us like children.

  7. Though I am not a military man (please don’t hold this against me!), I am shocked by what the politically correct, nanny state “leaders” have been doing to our fighting men as described in the piece.
    I was personally exposed to it a few years back, though I didn’t recognize it as being so pervasive in the military.
    I own a dive and mountain biking company and we hosted a group of eight guys who maintained they were Marines, SEALS, in fact. I didn’t ask for any proof but, the tats seemed to be enough.
    We went diving and were taken aback when they told us their limit was sixty feet (we and our normal clientele dive 80 to 100 feet).
    I won’t even talk about how badly they were beaten by our bike leader as they wouldn’t ride where he did because they thought it too dangerous.
    Now, I have to believe these guys were surely not representative of the military at large (and the partying, which my guys are pretty darn good at, that we led them in might have had something to do with it!) but, after reading this, maybe “safety” and “risk assessment” might have had some sort of effect.

  8. It’s a shame to read this, though I’ve seen jokes here and there about it. Reminds me of when I was in the Army, in the early 80’s and all the motorcycle safety stuff started. Mandatory training and testing, mandatory helmets and reflective vests at all times, etc. The safety mindset just kept on going till even in combat zones I guess and everything associated with the military.

    It is laughable if not so serious. The pacification/feminization of society in general. Everything must be Mom-approved. No risk is acceptable. Must have government approved everything. Very sad.

    • The motorcycle thing is still going full force. I used to ride, but I didn’t even bother trying to ride on post. It was too much of a pain in the ass.

      Do you think the problem is liability lawyers suing everyone for ridiculous nonsense? I think that’s making our entire culture risk averse.

  9. 17 James Piper

    You should have seen Vietnam at the end of 1970. In the Saigon, Bien Hoa and Long Binh areas, every Px had an O5 or O6 and a E7 or higher standing in front inspecting everyone entering. The annexes had O4’s and E-6’s. No dog tags, no ID, boots not bloused, ect., not allowed in. Heaven help the poor GI actually fighting in the field who managed a helicopter ride to the base to shop for a few minutes. Later, as a National Guard huey driver, I remember the risk assessment well. Actually, in aviation, in a peacetime environment, it wasn’t a bad idea. But of course taken to ridiculous extremes.

    • James,

      That reminds me of the story about some soldiers who had to go to General Patton’s HQ before a major attack. The guards at the HQ gate wouldn’t let the soldiers in because they weren’t wearing ties, and Patton’s rule was that anyone at his HQ had to wear a tie. So the guards kept those guys waiting until they could find ties. Their unit’s attack was delayed for hours because of this.

      The risk assessment can be a great tool if used appropriately, but when we need it for classroom lectures it’s gotten way out of hand.

  10. 19 Acme_Rocket

    This “100% safety” attitude applies to more than just the armed forces. When I worked in a chemistry lab for a major corporation we had a safety seminar one day where a member of the environmental health & safety (EH&S) team tell us that we would no longer be permitted to use scissors in the lab and would require Kevlar-lined rubber gloves to use a box cutter. Keep in mind, the vast majority of the chemists in that room who heard this nonsense handled chemicals on a daily basis that could 1) kill you or 2) burst into flames on contact with the air. A chemist unskilled in their physical technique typically doesn’t last very long in a lab.

    Another time we had to develop a corrective action plan when someone outside of the lab, a landscaper, put their hand inside a running lawnmower and amputated a few digits. A senior chemist could no longer keep a straight face, interrupted the speaker, and said something to the effect of, “The lawnmower was not given the proper opportunity to fix the mistake.”

    It’s unfortunate that the people who make these rules and guidelines outrank us, because their policies deserve only scorn and ridicule.

  11. 21 Comm-dude

    Civilian working at Kennedy Space Center in the Comm group.

    The safety culture at KSC has gotten so bad, we have a 50% increase in manhours to complete work orders. And incredible frustration in the work force. Because like Marxists, these safety folks are true believers that you cannot argue with.

    And I now write work orders that literally have 1-3 pages of work details and 20 pages of safety steps.

    And not only safety, the environmental Nazis also. Last month I had a job for the USAF shut down because there was an old Indian camp (not even a burial) just a pile of oyster shells 300′ away. The job was shut down until some extremely rude lady gave us an special exemption to dig a trench. -With the caveat that if we find Jimmy Hoffa or a potshard we cease all work.
    I keep saying to myself, ‘no wonder businesses are taking jobs overseas.’

    Decided to omit my name because I dare to criticize.

    • Comm dude,

      I hear you. I realize I’ve taken a risk by criticizing the Army publicly. But I think there are times you just need to speak out.

      Thanks for sharing your story, and good luck.

  12. 23 Buffalo86

    I’m just a civilian, but I’m horrified by this post. It genuinely frightens me to think that our war fighters are being forced to act like total pu$$ies. It sounds like my daughter’s soccer team is allowed to train harder than our soldiers. We

    What happened to, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf” and all that?

    Please, please tell me this isn’t so. I don’t blame our soldiers, but this is Fall-of-Rome stuff. Weren’t they farming their wars out to German mercenaries by the 4th century?

    • For the most part, the soldiers have kept on being warriors, despite the nonsense. Support units are, I think, suffering the brunt of it. Even though some soldiers are being converted, most of us are keeping it in perspective.

      No need to plan for the Fall of Rome just yet. 🙂

  13. 25 Cindy

    Reminds me of a time while a Brigade Commander was giving a summer safety briefing to the ranks while “his” hands were completely wrapped in bandages from picking up a running lawn mower! Wow.
    Seems practice what you preach isn’t always the norm.
    I say survival of the fittest…
    Sometimes nature just takes care of itself.
    I always have said, “If you want to be stupid, you have to be tuff!”
    God Bless our Troops!

    • I remember when a foreign nation’s colonel accidentally fired a burst from his carbine inside an armored vehicle as they were coming through the gate. He badly wounded his interpreter and slightly wounded himself in the face. That was the most embarrassed colonel I’ve ever seen in my life.

  14. 27 anon.

    Comm-dude nailed it. What drives this is the same mentality that drives political correctness, inclusiveness, environmentalism and marxism. People want an opportunity to show they are superior and to boss other people around. Of course, it pisses off a lot of the people being pushed around, but people’s innate ability to conform and learn how to achieve power makes some buy in and start playing this stupid game of coming up with ways to tell other people how to live.

  15. anon,

    That’s an interesting observation, thanks for sharing it. And it’s pretty scary.

  16. 29 124 MIB

    I was in the Army during Desert Shield / Desert Storm. When the time came for us to cross the border into Iraq, the Major gathered everyone around to brief us. His briefing was essentially “don’t trust anyone once we cross the border because the bad guys are everywhere”. We were all pretty jacked up and ready to go and then he uttered words that I will remember for the rest of my days. “But, the division has an excellent safety record going and we will not jeopardize that. I do not want to see any magazines in your weapons.” The briefing fell apart at that announcement.

    He took the senior NCO outside of the tent and loudly berated him for 15 to 20 minutes for daring to question his orders. The senior NCO eventually agreed to follow the letter of the major’s order. He returned to the tent and quielty ordered us to allow the major to SEE any magzines in our weapons. Any time the major was around magazines were removed and then replaced when he left.

    • 30 124 MIB

      My previous comment should have said to not allow the major to SEE any magazines in our weapons.

    • 124,

      I dealt with an NCO who wouldn’t let his troops load their weapons during missions in Iraq. Needless to say, the weapons somehow got loaded.

  17. 32 Mike_C

    I had no idea things were that screwed up, but sadly am not surprised. This nonsense must be terribly destructive to morale, and I strongly suspect undermines respect for authority. After all, if Authority is expecting people to comply with obvious bullshit, then there must be something wrong with Authority. Analogously, in the civilian world, who seriously believes the security theater at airports is what keeps us safe? (I can only thank god that that young woman was prevented from carrying 4 fl oz of shampoo into the “clean” area!) From thinking the TSA’s jobs (the parts we see anyway) are largely idiotic it’s not hard to slide into a general contempt for security overall. And so forth.

    That said, can I play Risk Assessment? Here are a few off the top of my head:

    1-Risk: Prolonged immobility, such as sitting in a briefing room chair for hours, increases risk of deep-vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT can lead to painful swelling of the afflicted extremity (typically a leg) and consequent loss of mobility and function. The most dreaded sequel of DVT is pulmonary embolus (PE), which is where a piece of the DVT breaks loose in the leg and is carried up the inferior vena cava into the lungs. This can lead to chest pain, respiratory distress and indeed even circulatory collapse and death. [footnote 1]
    1-Mitigation: Move around, don’t sit immobile. If you can, get up and out of the damn briefing room. Go PT or do something else more useful, such as brushing your dog’s teeth. If you can’t get up and walk around, fidget. Also, don’t smoke, which increases risk of hypercoaguability.
    [footnote 1: DVTs, are also known as economy class syndrome, meaning long plane flights stuck in a tiny seat for hours are a recognized risk factor for DVT and PE. Other immobility works too. I once took care of a healthy, nonsmoking guy in his 30’s who showed up in late April with a PE. All risk factor workup was negative. Finally he admitted that he sat for over 11 hours in a standard chair – with his feet hooked around the front legs, thus making pressure on the backs of the thighs – while doing his taxes on the 14th. That was all we could come up with as a source. Clever fellow, he asked for a medical note excusing him from taxes in the future as doing them had put him in the medical ICU, but we could not swing that.]

    2-Risk: Hypertension. Exposure to mental stress, such as dumb, time-wasting bullshit, is known to raise blood pressure. Persistent hypertension leads to left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH). LVH leads to excessive thickness of the heart wall, which is strongly associated with increased risk of stroke, heart failure and death. Acute severe increases in blood pressure (e.g. > 200 mmHg systolic, possibly in response to comments such as “At this point what difference does it make?”) dramatically increases risk of stroke, as well as things such as aortic dissection. (Dissection in the thoracic aorta has something close to a 50% chance of death in the first two hours and goes up from there unless emergent surgery is performed. Not that surgery is guaranteed to save life.)
    2-Mitigation. Avoid dumb bullshit that makes you angry. If you can’t get away from it and can’t shrug it off, some personalities benefit from subtly or openly mocking it. Bearing in mind that mockery may lead to unpleasant situations that can lead to more mental stress. If you have the right sort of personality you will take the punishment as a badge of honor, however.

    3-Risk: Caffeine consumption, whether via coffee, colas or even tea, temporarily increases heart rate and blood pressure. Re increased blood pressure, see point #2 above. Regarding heart rate, caffeine leads to sinus tachycardia (plain ol’ garden variety fast HR), but is also a risk factor for atrial fibrillation (AF). AF is rapid uncoordinated beating of the upper cardiac chambers, or atria hundreds of times a minute. Beats are conducted in an irregularly irregular manner to the ventricles, or lower, main pumping chambers. AF with rapid ventricular response (AF+RVR) has several deleterious effects. The first is that the ventricles are now beating > 100/min [FN2]. Even if the heart’s pumping capacity is intact, it still needs time to fill up with blood for the next beat. If heart rate is too high, that diastolic filling period is curtailed, and the heart starts to “pump dry” (not really, but functionally “dryish”). Also, think of the prolonged fast HR as running flat out for hours, this can cause leakage of enzymes (troponin) indicating damage to the heart muscle. Finally, prolonged AF leads to risk of blood clot forming in the left ventricle. A clot in situ is actually not all that dangerous, but if the clot is dislodged and goes out the aorta it can lodge in the brain and cause a stroke, or in the kidneys and cause a renal infarction, and so on.
    3-Mitigation: keep meetings short enough that people don’t have the need to drink loads of coffee to stay awake.
    [FN2: in AF the atria can be beating >300 times/minute, but not all beats are conducted to the ventricles. Thank your AV node for that. If your ventricles tried to go >300 times/minute you’d be in a world of trouble.]

    4-Risk: Snack Foods. Doughnuts and other sugary, fatty, cholesterol-ridden conference foods increase risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Soft drink consumption is associated with increased risk of metabolic syndrome and the components of metabolic syndrome.
    4-Mitigation: Avoid the temptation to eat snacky conference foods by avoiding conferences. Go do something useful instead.

    These are true medical risks, but exaggerated for effect. Still if they want you to come up with risks, those are backed up by the medical literature.

    • 33 Mike_C

      LVH leads to excessive thickness of the heart wall
      Not “leads to” damnit. LVH is excessive cardiac muscle mass, typically measured in terms of wall thickness (and chamber diameter).

    • Mike,

      Your comment reminded me of an article on TheDuffelBlog, “Army trying to stop wave of suicides occuring during suicide prevention classes.”

      I’m going to print your comment and put it on the wall at my unit.

      • 35 Mike_C

        Geez, I need to do a better job proofreading. AF increases risk of a clot forming in the left ATRIUM, not the ventricle. Brain must have been on Mars when I was typing that.

  18. 36 An old dogface medic

    nice write up. It reminds me both of RAH’s training attitude in Starship Troopers and of the hot weather briefings I gave as a young SP5 to the Staff and Fac group at a major US Army Training base (every year for the three years I was there). The final point was that even if it was the Commanding General HisOwnSelf, one should not use potable water to cool a heat casualty down if said potable water was in short supply…instead, run it through your own system first…

    I also promised all and sundry attending that if that happened, I would be happy to testify at the court martial that the CG would probably order after the incident, and point out to the Court that “Well, the General is alive to complain, isn’t he?”

    • Wow. So if a guy was dying from a heatstroke, go find some dirty water to cool him down with?

      • 38 Weirddave

        I think you misread that. He said to filter the potable water through your own system first, if it was a CO type with heat exhaustion (presumably one who was a safety Nazi). Also works if he is on fire.

        • 39 An old dogface medic

          you are both correct- bottom line was not to waste already potable water (which puts the rest of the unit at risk for more heat casualties) while still providing evaporative cooling by any means possible.

          we carried 5 gallon insulated jugs of ice water on our birds (DUSTOFF) and the summer prior (my first summer at that post and in the unit) to my being tasked to provide the briefings cared for a number of significant heat casualties (including one WPPA LT who died).

  19. 40 68W58

    Chris-I hate the PT belt with a white hot passion and I understand your revulsion at the CYA attitude that has clearly inspired a great deal of this.

    However, I ask you to consider why the risk management program was implemented in the first place. If you follow this link https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/dcas/pages/report_by_year_manner.xhtml you should see a table of total military deaths per year from 1980 until today. Look at how many deaths there were during the 1980s-virtually all from accidents-and then look at how those tapered off over time. A big part of that reduction was due to better risk management. Stuff like doing CRM for classes in leadership schools helps remind future leaders to be safety conscious at all times. Joe often has to be reminded that “hey y’all watch this” is probably not a good idea.

    • Doc,

      Thanks for the comments and insight. You’re absolutely right that the Army needed some safety emphasis. Being smart about training doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is the ridiculous overreaction to the safety problem. Being smart doesn’t mean we make soldiers wear a reflective belt to exercise on a field where cars can’t drive, in broad daylight. It doesn’t mean units can’t perform basic exercise like an APFT without a medic present “just in case something happens.” I personally hated the fact that risk assessments were used in training as I described, because no instructor ever told us “This is just a training tool, in real life you only have to worry about it sometimes.”

      What I’ve seen happen in practice is that leaders are so risk averse because of the danger of an injury that they won’t take ANY risks in training. The end result is that too many soldiers only experience real risk when they’re in their first firefight. The Army is perfectly content to let us participate in 100% safe training (like rifle qual, with no movement, targets in only one direction, safety personnel on hand to ensure nobody points their weapons anywhere but downrange, etc), and then send us into Afghanistan where we have a 360 degree threat environment, we routinely move around each other with loaded weapons, we use team live fire tactics and so on. With all the risk aversion, when do we actually get the training we need to not only survive but also to win the fight? The answer is, we don’t. And the effect is that we don’t maneuver on the enemy when we should, we think we’re pinned down when we could risk some small arms fire in order to gain a more advantageous position, we don’t do anything dangerous but necessary because “something might happen”. I realize this doesn’t apply to all units, but very few units get the realistic, slightly dangerous training they should.

      Back in WW2, Marines were put in trenches at infantry school and instructors fired Japanese weapons over their heads. This was done so they could identify enemy weapons by their sound. The weapons were also fired from different distances, so the Marines could learn to estimate how far away the weapons were. The instructors would fire the weapons individually so the Marines could hear that specific weapon, then fire the together so they’d have to pick out each weapon amid all the gunfire. Marines who did this could theoretically listen to small arms fire in combat and say, “Okay, that’s a Nambu light machine gun. It’s about 200 meters away.” This was extremely valuable training. Would any unit commander risk doing that today? Other than SF commanders, I seriously doubt it.

      Again, I get your point. Soldiers do dumbass stuff sometimes and there is a legitimate need for safety awareness. But we don’t need to be treated like children about safety, and we don’t need the safety police being so strict that units just give up trying to realistically train for war.

      • 42 68W58

        Chris-I hear you. Part of the reason that we do training the way we do is that we have never really gotten over the concept of the “linear battlefield” with bad guys “over there” and our ranges are still set up to reflect that.

        Having said that, let me tell you about exceptions to that that I have personally experienced: in 2004 when I was with 278th Cav in Kuwait we did a 360 degree convoy live fire before moving into Iraq, in 2009 the Engineer brigade I was with did one at Ft. McCoy. Last year I supported an artillery battery (HIMARS) that was gearing up for Afghanistan and they did a live-fire shoot house at AT in Smyrna TN (the officer responsible for ranges in TN came out and spoke to the unit to show his appreciation because the shoot house is underused and he wanted to express his admiration to the unit for using it even though they probably won’t do any room clearance for real, their mission is to provide fire support for SF in country). Every time there was a “crawl, walk, run” approach. The arty guys, for example, did two days of walk through with the range safeties before they did the live fire.

        In every instance there were reasonable safety precautions in place (being a medic, and often the boss medic, I was involved with that aspect)-so I do think it is possible to do realistic training reasonably safely so long as you do so with practice, good planning and an eye to safety…

        • 43 68W58

          Oops-I meant Tullahoma, not Smyrna, above.

        • Doc,

          Before Iraq I went on two convoy live fire exercises. Each was better than the usual rifle qual, but neither was 360 degree. I’ve also been able to do some more advanced stuff than what the Army usually gives us, but it was always on a small scale (and sometimes under the radar).

          I’m all for good training with reasonable safety precautions. The problem is, it’s way too easy to just say no to additional risk associated with training. Some unit commanders fall back on the “I’ve checked all the mandatory boxes, why complicate things with additional training” mentality. Then we have unit commanders like one I met in Afghanistan, who told me “My only job is to make sure my troops get back home.” He said this after I asked him to support other American teams in the AO who needed troops for security.

          I agree that we can have realistic training that is both safe and effective. My problem isn’t with making sure the troops are safe. It’s with the overall mentality that green safety dots are producing.

      • Uh, no.

        The overwhelming biggest part of the decrease of deaths from accidents 1980-present was the decrease in the military and then outright halving of it post GW-I, and the resultant drawdown in operational training budgets.

        It’s amazing how safe the military becomes when you drydock half the ships, ground half the planes, and discharge half the active duty divisions, let alone don’t hold training, especially the kind that’s as tough or tougher than the next three actual wars.

        But thanks for playing, doc.

        And Chris, if you aren’t familiar with it, you should read the high satire in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels wherein he describes the imaginary Lilliputian Cavalry rigorously battle-training on his stretched handkerchief, and how the training stopped when someone got injured. And this was from 1726.

        The more things change, the more they stay the same.

        • 46 68W58

          Using the link I posted above and restricting myself to those years in which there were less than 20 deaths due to hostile action (which would skew the numbers in my favor), I calculated the percentage of total military deaths due to accidents from 1980 until 2002 and I list those percentages below:

          1980-65%
          1981-64%
          1982-64%
          1983-61%
          1984-64%
          1985-66%
          1986-60%
          1988-59%
          1990-58%
          1992-52%
          1993-52%
          1994-50%
          1995-52%
          1996-53%
          1997-53%
          1998-54%
          1999-55%
          2000-51%
          2001-49%
          2002-54%

          It’s pretty clear that there was something other than a reduction in the size of the force at work and it would be a mistake not to take into account the extent to which better risk management helps explain that.

          Go back to your fables Aesop.

          • 47 An old dogface medic

            While I do not argue with your figures, you also need to examine both the total numbers (of troops and casualties) and calculate the number of casualties per (generally) 100,000 population.

            A reduction from 4 deaths to 3 deaths between two years represents a 25% reduction in absolute mortality….but if the population has dropped by 50% for some reason, then the risk measured as casualties per unit population has actually increased (note: effects exaggerated to make the point. Generally, it is *much* more subtle than this, and it is part of the reason why many experienced physicians, nurses and statisticians groan when a non medical journal or paper trumpets how the ‘latest and greatest’ treatment will ‘cut the deaths from condition X by 50%,’ when in reality, the condition only occurs in 1/100,000 patients to start with…

            I do recall that at the major training base where I spent 3 years (1980-83), there were significant reductions in alcohol related injuries, due to the command emphasis against some of the previously standard ‘party games’ at unit functions and the on base clubs, as well as a ‘no tolerance’ policy to DUI on base.

            I also recall that there were purported problems with GI suicides during that time, but when one examined the data, it turned out that GIs were committing suicide at less than half the rate of their age matched civilian counterparts…

          • 48 68W58

            An old dogface medic-the link that I provided has an equivalency for the number of active duty troops and so, using the years listed above, I divided that number by the number of total deaths to get 1 death per x active duty troops and this is what I got:

            1980-902
            1981-927
            1982-970
            1983-922
            1984-1149
            1985-1031
            1986-1189
            1988-1269
            1990-1489
            1992-1510
            1993-1524
            1994-1624
            1995-1598
            1996-1656
            1997-1931
            1998-1860
            1999-1917
            2000-1839
            2001-1645
            2002-1548

            Make of those numbers whatever you will, it certainly seems that the general risk of death for the average troop (in “non-combat” years) decreased over time, but I think they are somewhat beside the point. What I was trying to show is that the percent of deaths due to accidents decreased given that accidents are what CRM seeks to control and counteract. With that in mind it seems to me to be perfectly reasonable to look at the percentage of overall deaths due to accidents, which is why I posted those numbers earlier.

            I agree that statistics that purport to show how bad this or that problem is in the service are often presented absent context (I’m looking at you Army Times), but it seems to me that the decline in the overall percent of total deaths in the service from accidents is a validation of the idea that commanders have to plan-and be responsible-for safety, and that other leaders should also take safety into account for planning and execution (either with regard to training or an actual mission).

            Look, I don’t blame Chris-or anyone else-for being frustrated with the “green safety dot” mentality (and I do truly hate the PT belt and all of the pettiness that goes with it). But I worked PTAE for a while preparing soldiers to deploy and I’ve deployed multiple times myself and I see the value in risk mitigation.

          • 49 68W58

            One more thing-I think that it is probable that an eye to risk management has helped us get better gear over the course of the war. When I first deployed in 2003 we got old Vietnam era flak jackets (no plates, though in fairness we were only supposed to go to Kuwait, but some of us ended up in places like Bucca and Cedar II) and only the regular goggles as eye pro. Then in 2004 we got the vests with kevlar and SAPI plates and shatter resistant glasses. After that it was the “over the shoulder” vests with the pull tab (so that it could be discarded quickly if we went into the water) and built in side plates along with the seat belt cutters. There are probably other things that don’t come immediately to mind, anyway-I’ll shut up for now.

  20. 50 Brent

    Please help me out. Where is the Risk Assessment for this essay?

      • 52 Brent

        Excellent! LOL!

      • 53 RecChief

        hey now, as a warrant officer (walking warrant, not a rotor head) I am four square behind you on this. I had a BN safety officer once who wanted me to devise a safety apparatus for a piece of machinery that would have made it inoperable. I put yellow and black caution tape on the threshold to my shop, and told him that he was not allowed to cross the ‘line of death’. So he asked me what would happen if he crossed it to perform a safety inspection, and I told him that he would die. I think he actually believed me. The point is, the company commander chewed my ass for going along, then later congratulated me for standing up to stupidity. It’s all an exercise in CYA, not rocking the boat and hopefully not screwing up their careers.

        One caveat, my favorite thing when noticing someone doing something stupid is to go find a fellow Warrant, and telling him he has to see it too.

        “Hey watch this!”

        good luck,

        Chief

        • Geez. Sounds like the guy who shut down the Simunition training. “This training is so great, let’s put a stop to it!”

          Good to know that we have warrants who are willing to stand up to the safety commisars. 🙂

  21. This is what happens when your safety program is designed by lawyers and idiots (but I repeat myself) rather than safety professionals.

  22. 56 Jennifer Thompson

    I know this is an older thread, but I just have to comment because it’s too relevant. I worked comms for an MP unit in Iraq in the joy that was Operation New Dawn. Females actually were issued rape whistles, and were required to present them if in PTs/carrying hygiene bags on the way to or from the shower. Best response by far was from a particularly hardcore girl with cornrows stating, “Rape whistle? Hahaha, you already issued us M9s, but sure. You know how you’ll know someone tried to rape me in the shower? 15 gunshots followed by now I guess a whistle.”

    • Jennifer,

      A female former soldier I know recently told me about being issued a rape whistle in Iraq. I can’t think of a better way to reinforce a victim mentality than issuing rape whistles. As I told my friend, “Nobody should be able to hear the rape whistle over the sound of gunshots as you shoot the rapist in the face, or the rapist’s screams as you repeatedly stab his guts out.”

      A rapist should live in fear of accidentally trying to rape a female soldier. Why would we tell any soldier to just blow a whistle and wait for help if someone attacks them?

      Thanks for your comments and your service, Jennifer.


  1. 1 In the shadow of the Green Safety Dot | chrishernandezauthor | Bring the heat, Bring the Stupid
  2. 2 The Green Safety Dot and Risk Assessment. | Bring the heat, Bring the Stupid
  3. 3 “Enlightened” bosses — making folks miserable in the manufacturing world and the military alike « The Interface
  4. 4 Podcast: Twelve Years Later… | The Jeff Scott Show

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