If we want to thank our service members, let's ensure their safety

If we want to thank our service members, let's ensure their safety
© JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images

Many inherent dangers of military service are foreseeable and accepted as part of the job. One danger in particular, however, bears a high cost that is both avoidable and harmful to unit readiness. Since 2015, 93 rollovers involving the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) or “Humvees" have left ten active duty service members dead and 122 injured, according to data from the Army Safety Center Risk Management Information System database.

Recently, an Army paratrooper in Alaska was killed in a rollover and a Fort Polk soldier died in a similar accident resulting in the injury of 12 additional soldiers. Last year, a National Guard Humvee rolled over in Ohio, killing a six-year-old boy and his civilian father. And it’s not just Humvee rollovers. Other armored vehicles have recently killed or injured service members in rollovers as well.

The military’s leadership, congressional committee chairpersons and other influential members of Congress are fully aware of this issue. As defense appropriations fast approach, it’s time for Congress to turn that awareness into action by addressing the root cause of these rollovers and provide all the necessary resources to the military for installing rollover mitigation retrofit kits for all Humvees. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Understanding the limitations of equipment is crucial during pre-deployment and peacetime training that simulates combat. Along with that is the cost necessary to ensure greater casualties are not incurred due to personnel and equipment being unprepared for the rigors of combat. While some hazards of military operations are unavoidable, this one has a solution — one that should be made available to all active duty, National Guard and Reserve service members.

The Army has recognized this shortfall and is now working to secure funding in order to equip all new vehicles with safety technology. Last year, the Army notified Congress that all legacy vehicles would undergo a rollover mitigation retrofit if funds were appropriated in this year’s budget. However, subsequent inaction by members of Congress, who have failed to come to an agreement on the appropriation of critical funds needed to retrofit the military’s Humvees, has resulted in continued unnecessary risk for our service members.

The Army faces a daunting task with close to 100,000 legacy vehicles presently operating without rollover mitigation kits. But perhaps the most maddening aspect of this situation is that kits are available for mechanics to install right now. And, as any service member who knows his or her way around the motor pool will tell you, the inability to purchase available, tested and approved parts, is the absolute height of aggravation.

Moreover, this has often forced unit leaders to cannibalize their budgets in order to fund these life-saving rollover mitigation retrofit kits, according to a recent Senate Armed Services Committee Briefing on HMMWV Rollover Mitigation. It has also needlessly hindered the Humvee rollover mitigation process, which involves the installation of antilock braking systems and electronic stability control kits proven to significantly reduce vehicle rollovers.

Despite these modifications having been available to the general public since 1987, not until as recently as 2011 did the U.S. government mandate their installation in all passenger vehicles traveling on public roads. Ironically, a civilian Humvee built after 2011 will have this life-saving technology to drive down an immaculately paved highway, while service members in Afghanistan driving on a crumbling mountain road will not. This is unacceptable.

ADVERTISEMENT

It’s time for our government, starting with the 535 representatives we sent to Capitol Hill, to show us the lives of our service members have value. Funds must be appropriated for the purchase and deployment of braking and stability control retrofit kits that can help prevent rollover and loss-of-control crashes before they occur.

This is especially important as many Humvees utilize stateside public roads thus posing additional risks to civilian populations near bases, depots and training facilities. Fleet-wide Humvee rollover mitigation can no longer wait.

Congressional votes on this very budgetary line item are expected soon. That vote will indicate whether our lawmakers are willing to take every possible step to save the lives of our nation’s defenders — particularly when the solutions are obvious and fairly easy to implement. The best way to thank our nation’s defenders for their service is to show them that the cost to ensure their safety and well being, as they protect ours, is worth paying.

Sherman Gillums Jr. is the chief advocacy officer for AMVETS National and a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer.