Army Ranger Training:

Safety Improvements Need to Be Institutionalized

NSIAD-97-29: Published: Jan 2, 1997. Publicly Released: Jan 2, 1997.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed the Army's investigation of the February 1995 accident in which four Army Ranger Training Brigade students died while training in a Florida swamp, focusing on the: (1) status of all of the Army's corrective actions; (2) adequacy of Army oversight to ensure that the corrective actions instituted after the accident will be sustained in the future; (3) Army's progress in implementing the Fiscal Year 1996 National Defense Authorization Act's mandate to increase Brigade staffing to 90 percent of requirements; and (4) Army's progress in establishing safety cell organizations at the Brigade.

GAO found that: (1) the Ranger Training Brigade has completed most of the corrective actions recommended by the Army; (2) the Brigade has improved safety by developing systems to better monitor and predict swamp conditions, and improved command and control by revising its procedures to move training exercises outside high-risk areas of the swamp, eliminate discretion to deviate from planned exercise locations, and incorporate the latest guidance on training safety; (3) evacuation procedures have been revised and rehearsed, new medevac helicopters and refueling capacity have been obtained, and medics have been assigned directly to the Brigade; (4) if the Army is to sustain the key corrective actions taken after the accident in the future, the actions must become institutionalized; (5) if the important corrective actions are to become institutionalized, formal Army inspections will have to be expanded to include testing or observing to determine whether they are working effectively; (6) the Army plans to fully staff the Ranger Training Brigade at the mandated 90-percent level by February 1997; (7) although the Army raised the Brigade's staffing priority subsequent to GAO's field work, high-risk training units generally are not recognized in Army personnel staffing priorities; (8) the Brigade's long-term ability to sustain the required number of officers may be hindered by competition with Army priorities given to units who are first to fight and with other important noncombatant units; (9) currently, members of the Ranger Training Brigade and battalion chains of command serve as the safety cell organization established pursuant to the act; (10) the act did not establish specific criteria to guide decisions on the makeup of a safety cell, and the option chosen by the Army represents little change from the safety oversight practice that was in place at the time of the accident; (11) personnel in these positions have limited experience in the local training areas due to the Army's policy of rotating them to new units every 2 or 3 years; and (12) the Army Infantry Center is considering requesting authorization for additional civilian and military positions to serve as full-time safety cell members.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Ranger Training Brigade has identified the critical safety controls to the chain of command and continues to refine and codify them in standard operating procedures.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct that the Ranger Training Brigade identify critical training safety controls at each training location.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Secretary of the Army directed that the Ranger Training Brigade chain of command, including the Training and Doctrine Command and the Army Infantry Center, and external organizations, such as the Inspector General, conduct periodic inspections of the Brigade's compliance with key safety controls.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should ensure that Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), the Army Infantry Center, Fort Benning safety office, and Ranger Training Brigade conduct periodic inspections to determine compliance with the identified safety controls.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Secretary of the Army directed that the Ranger Training Brigade chain of command, including the Training and Doctrine Command and the Army Infantry Center, and external organizations, such as the Inspector General, conduct periodic inspections of the Brigade's compliance with key safety controls.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct that inspections of critical safety controls be made periodically by organizations outside the chain of command such as the Army Inspector General.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

 

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