MSG Half-Mast started the new year with a virtual visit to Fort Rucker, AL, where he spoke with the US Army Combat Readiness Center (USACRC) commanding general, BG Andrew C. Hilmes, about the USACRC's mission and the intersection of safety and readiness. BG Hilmes also serves as the Director of Army Safety.
BG Hilmes assumed his current duties on August 22, 2019. To read his official biography, click HERE.
Your organization is officially titled the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center. Yet the web address is safety.army.mil. Clearly, there’s a nexus between safety and readiness. Would you explain that connection and how the USACRC preserves and enhances readiness?
BG Hilmes: Safety is really about standards – training to standard and then executing a mission or task to standard. In other words, safety is more of a byproduct that happens when leaders and units execute their assigned tasks to standard – or by the book.
The word safety can elicit negative perceptions for some in the profession of arms, so I prefer to use the term risk management – identify the hazards, assess the hazards, develop control measures and make risk decisions, implement controls, and supervise and evaluate. Operationalizing risk management is something all Army leaders must be proficient at and I would offer that our professional military education courses give all leaders the basic tools to do this.
The troop leading procedures (TLPs) are a dynamic process used by small-unit leaders to analyze a mission, develop a plan and prepare for an operation. Leaders actually implement the steps of risk management when they execute TLPs. The same things that allow us to succeed in combat, conduct a pre-combat inspection (PCI) of our equipment or analyze the conditions we will be operating in, also apply to risk management. This is why safety, or risk management, and readiness are inherently linked.
You investigate mishaps and analyze data in order to see and warn against troubling trends. What are some current safety “trouble spots” of which Soldiers should be aware? Related to this, what are some basic best practices that Soldiers should employ to stay safe, particularly when maintaining their vehicles and equipment?
BG Hilmes: Driving or riding in a motor vehicle, whether on or off duty, is the most dangerous thing a Soldier can do. Therefore, driver training is critically important.
Last year, we lost three Soldiers to on-duty government motor vehicle mishaps and 73 to off-duty private motor vehicle mishaps, with a vast majority being preventable. Today, nearly 20% of the Soldiers entering the Army do so without a civilian driver’s license, a figure that has steadily increased over the past 20 years. The Remedial Driver Training (RDT) program is a tool commanders can use to help their Soldiers change their behavior and decision-making processes behind the wheel. It is available at every active Army installation through the garrison safety office and it is free.
A motor vehicle-related issue we continue to see is the lack of seat belt or vehicle restraint system use. Simply put, this is a standards and discipline issue. We haven’t lost a Soldier wearing a seat belt or restraint in a tactical vehicle mishap since March 2018. We recently had a Stryker vehicle, at full capacity, inadvertently drive off the side of a road, rollover, and none of the nine Soldiers were injured, all because they were properly restrained. Almost all of the fatal vehicle mishaps we investigate would have been non-fatal if the Soldiers involved had simply worn their restraints.
Interestingly, the majority of fatal vehicle mishaps are administrative movements of less than four vehicles on a road way or improved trail. They are typically low-risk operations…but we’re allowing unnecessary risk to creep in and the result is failure. A single-vehicle movement to a range or a tactical vehicle convoy during deployment or at a training center requires leadership oversight and risk management like any other mission. Leaders who apply the TLPs to all missions, regardless of complexity, will inherently be successful.
The USACRC dedicates quite a bit of attention to off-duty safety. Explain how off-duty safety is important and the ways it impacts the overall readiness of the force.
BG Hilmes: Off-duty mishaps remain the No. 1 accidental cause of death of our Soldiers. Off-duty Soldier fatalities generally account for 75% of all Soldier fatalities, typically by a 3:1 ratio when compared to on-duty losses.
In FY21 we lost 86 Soldiers to off-duty mishaps, most in the form of private motor vehicle accidents, a nearly 15% increase from FY20. It’s the greatest challenge we face because Soldiers are typically away from their first-line leaders when the mishap occurs.
Some of us are more prone to risky behavior than others. First-line leaders are best postured to mitigate this risk through their leadership skills and the influence they have on their subordinates. They also know who on their team is most susceptible to risk behavior.
It only takes a small amount of time to have a discussion about off-duty activities, what hazards may be encountered, and how to handle them. Engaged first-line leaders who know their Soldiers and help them visualize the challenges they will face during their down time are the “secret sauce” to reducing this unfortunate and unnecessary drain on readiness.
The culture within a unit, whether it applies to vehicle or aircraft maintenance, administration or tactical operations, is typically established by the unit commander. In other words, units will do those things that commanders think are important. How do units assess their safety culture?
BG Hilmes: The Army Readiness Assessment Program (ARAP) is a proven tool for units, tactical and non-tactical, to gauge their safety climates. Since ARAP’s inception more than 16 years ago, and having processed more than 3 million surveys, we know units that score in the bottom 25% of ARAP are twice as likely to have a Class A mishap (fatality or more than $2.5 million in property or equipment damage) than those units that score in the top 25%.
MSG Half-Mast: PS Magazine
That’s incredible insight. It’s actually the closest thing battalion and brigade commanders have to a crystal ball for gaining insights into their safety culture and respective programs.
Battalion-level units are required to complete the survey during the first ninety days following a change of command, typically every two years. ARAP allows commands to use the tool to compile the perceptions of the organizational climate by sampling from six focus areas: common core, organizational processes, organizational climate, resources, supervision and safety programs. Unfiltered feedback presents both quantitative and qualitative data to units.
So, while the unit score tells you how likely your unit is to have a major mishap at the time of the survey, what is more important is what you do with the results. Similar to a command climate survey, command teams can use ARAP to make their unit better.
’s primary focus is on helping Soldiers (as well as sister-service Warfighters) maintain their vehicles and equipment so they’re combat ready at all times. What resources does the USACRC offer that will help Soldiers accomplish their various mission tasks in the safest way possible?
BG Hilmes: One of the most valuable tools we have is the Lessons Learned portal on our public website. Each printable summary provides a synopsis of a mishap, key facts and actionable recommendations to mitigate similar events from occurring in the future. The portal currently contains more than 60 ground and aviation mishap summaries that are available to leaders and units to learn from.
Another online tool we have is our exportable loss prevention briefings. These briefings are developed by USACRC subject-matter experts and serve as great tools for any leader. They are best suited for small- to medium-sized audiences where facilitators and audience members are able to discuss key topics and ultimately answer the question, “Is this happening in my unit?” The USACRC website also contains ground, aviation, off-duty, distracted driving and privately-owned weapons briefings, which are really a basis for having frank and open discussion about the best way to mitigate risk across the formation.
Preliminary loss reports (PLRs) are short synopses of recent Army mishaps resulting in fatalities. They alert commanders, leaders and safety professionals to circumstances affecting readiness, along with some tips on how to best manage those circumstances safely. PLRs are ideal for first-line leaders to use when they are conducting risk management training or even providing a safety brief.
We also have a web page dedicated to driver training called the Driver’s Training Toolbox to assist commanders, examiners and instructors in the management of driver training. The toolbox provides a central location for the materials necessary to establish and maintain an effective driver training program. These materials are all “best practices” from other units and designed to be copied and implemented in other units to save leaders time and allow one unit’s success to benefit others.
Nobody should feel alone or unsupported when seeking to conduct safety and risk management training, or when looking for loss prevention tools…the USACRC is their back-side support. We have forty years of time-tested and proven material on our website ready for their use.