Army Ranger Training:

Final Assessment of Improvements Mandated By 1996 National Defense Authorization Act

NSIAD-99-57: Published: Feb 25, 1999. Publicly Released: Feb 25, 1999.

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Mark E. Gebicke
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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO provided information on the corrective actions taken by the Army following the deaths of four Ranger students in a 1995 training accident, focusing on the status of: (1) Army Ranger training manning levels required by the fiscal year 1996 National Defense Authorization Act; (2) establishing safety cell organizations required by the act; (3) corrective safety actions instituted after the accident; and (4) inspections of identified safety controls.

GAO noted that: (1) even though the Army placed the Ranger Training Brigade on the list of units excepted from normal Army personnel priorities and raised the Brigade's personnel distribution to 90 percent of required numbers, it was not able to meet the act's required personnel levels; (2) in February 1997, when the Army planned to first meet the act's requirement, the Brigade had 97 percent of required enlisted personnel but only 88 percent of the required number of officers; (3) the Brigade's personnel strength was below the mandated 90-percent level for both officers and enlisted personnel from October 1997 through September 1998; (4) while Brigade officer staffing levels were below the mandate, they were significantly higher than they were at the time of the accident; (5) if the Army continues the current 90-percent officer distribution planning level for the brigade, it is not necessary to continue the mandated personnel levels in law; (6) the Army has established safety cells with personnel knowledgeable about local terrain and weather conditions, but the frequency of personnel rotations may make it difficult to provide sufficient continuity that the act requires; (7) specifically, the Brigade and battalion chains of command who serve as the safety cell members and supervise daily training safety decisions generally rotate to new units every 2-3 years; (8) because of the act's requirement that safety cell personnel have sufficient continuity and experience, the Army has recently authorized the addition of four civilian personnel to the safety cells at the Brigade and the three training battalions; (9) the Army plans to fill these positions by September 1999; (10) the Army has completed and institutionalized most of the recommended corrective actions, and they appear to be functioning effectively; (11) the Brigade has improved safety controls at the Florida Ranger camp by developing systems to better monitor and predict river and swamp conditions; (12) it has moved waterborne training exercises outside high-risk areas and eliminated discretion to deviate from established training lanes; (13) at all three training phases, medical evacuation procedures have been revised, rehearsed, and inspected, physician assistants have been assigned to the Brigade and training battalions, and a Brigade communications officer has been assigned; (14) in addition, the Brigade now requires that its training companies be commanded by branch-qualified captains; and (15) although frequent inspections have been conducted since the accident, they did not evaluate continued compliance with the training safety controls, nor were the results of the inspections adequately documented.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Secretary of the Army directed that Officer and Enlisted strength be sustained at or above 90 percent distribution level and has established procedures to ensure compliance.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should continue the current 90-percent officer distribution planning level for the Ranger Training Brigade.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Secretary of the Army directed continued, documented evaluations of training safety controls.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct that future inspections of the Brigade include evaluations of training safety controls and that the inspections' results are documented.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army


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