News: Weapon safety: Every Soldier's concern
Story by Spc. Debralee Best
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq — Safety is an important issue, especially when it comes to live ammunition and loaded weapons. Any unsafe act could result in the loss of life or limb.
Weapon safety is covered throughout a Soldier's Army career. It is heavily focused on because it is important to remain vigilant and avoid complacency.
According to a Boston Globe article on May 3, American troops are less likely to die from insurgents than from accidents, natural causes and "nonhostile" incidents. These statistics were compiled by the Department of Defense from September to April.
The major cause for accidents and injuries are lack of self-discipline, failure to enforce standards and inadequate training, according to the U.S. Army Safety Center. The most common injury producing areas of weapons handling are the failure to follow procedures, improper or inadequate clearing, untimely loading and unloading, personnel in the path of recoil or back-blast and fratricide.
Statistics show that although vehicle rollover deaths have decreased, they have been offset by weapons accidents and suicides. Due to this, deaths by nonhostile causes have maintained a rate of 100 to 175 per year.
There have been 21 negligent discharges in Iraq since January, according to Lt. Col. James Tovsen, Multi-National Division - South command safety director from Prior Lake, Minn. The leading cause is failure to properly clear weapons.
"[It's a Soldier's] personal responsibility to clear their weapon properly, starting with dropping or removing the magazine," said Tovsen. "Many times complacency has set in after a long hard day. That person's most significant step is to drop that magazine."
Another mistake people make is failing to properly visually check the chamber, he added.
Proper weapon handling is accomplished by non-commissioned officers mentoring their Soldiers on firearm safety.
"It's important at the NCO level to check Soldiers' weapons to ensure there are no misfires," said Tovsen. "Make sure they clean their weapons and know the proper clearing procedures."
Other tips the U.S. Army Safety Center suggest are ensuring weapons are always oriented away from troops, equipment and facilities and remind Soldiers to handle all weapons as though they are loaded.
While the most damage will come from a discharge, the muzzle is not the only area to be concerned with, according to Tovsen. The buttstock can also cause injury and damage to people and things in the area. He stresses situational awareness to avoid this.