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Cadet killed in ‘training accident’ at West Point

Posted by John T. Reed on

I got a text this morning that a cadet died at West Point and 20 other cadets and two trainers were hurt in a tip over of a five-ton Army truck.
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TV video seemed to show it happened on the highway from the West Point cadet area to Camp Buckner which is on the reservation west of the barracks, classrooms, and parade field.
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I was trained to be an Army truck driver at West Point during my first two months there. I got an Army drivers license. We drove deuce-and-a- half trucks---half the load-carrying capacity of a 5-ton.
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The training lasted half a day if I recall correctly. Was it adequate? It seemed so at the time. But a perennial story during all four years of West Point was hearing that a guy who graduated last June died in a jeep rollover accident. Also another such guy or two would die trying to drive too many miles—falling asleep at the wheel—between one stateside duty station and the next—trying to pocket the travel money for the motel.
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The jeeps were very dangerous on curves. I had to yell at a driver in Vietnam who was taking the corners too fast and thought I was some sort of wimp. I chewed his ass and told him about all the recent grads of West Point who died within their first year or so in Germany or Vietnam or the states. The jeep wheels were toed in making the vehicle pigeon-toed, which cause the low-speed flip overs.
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I know nothing about the five-ton truck, but I do know that the US Army does a half-ass job of training cadets how to drive Army vehicles and used to do a criminally inadequate job regarding the WW II/Vietnam jeep and an inadequate job of teaching cadet seniors about the dangers of falling asleep at the wheel during the first year after graduation. 
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Some company mates and I got a vehicle to go camping overnight at West Point one weekend. We wanted a jeep. They refused to give it to us. Too dangerous. They gave us a 3/4 ton truck instead.
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Who was driving the 5-ton? Reportedly a non-cadet enlisted man. Those came to West Point temporarily for the summer when I was a cadet. They were not familiar with roads in the woods to the West of WP.
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The only sharp curve I can think of on the road to Buckner would be the 90-degree turn into Camp Buckner per se. My classmate who told me about it said one news account said the truck was on a fire break road. He was not supposed to be. He was lost. He also said he heard or read a report that said the cadets told the driver to slow down. That means he was hot rodding on a paved road probably while turning into the fire break road, or he was off-roading too fast. I would be pretty certain that he was not allowed to speed or go off road. on that driving assignment. 
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NY Times said it happened on route 293. That starts west of the golf course and goes out to Camp Buckner as I thought. Times said it was near Camp Natural Bridge.
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In 1965, my Buckner Company was the first to get chemical warfare training. The 101st Airborne Division morons who trained us in the summer had great fun using too many CS gas grenades. The trainers were wearing gas masks. We were not.
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We all panicked (no choice---we could not breathe) and ran to try to get away. Some, not me, ran out onto 293, a highway with civilian traffic. I did not avoid 293. We were all blinded by the gas and just ran in random directions. Whether you ended up on the highway depended on where you were the moment the gas hit your throat. In the event, no cars or trucks happened by when this happened.
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CNN says the truck was driving over rough terrain when it flipped over. I am dubious of that. The only rough terrain I recall driving over in 4 years at WP was in an M-60 tank at Fort Knox. Driving over rough terrain in a 5-ton truck sounds like a prohibited act unless in actual combat in an emergency situation.
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CNN also says the vehicle was an armored personnel carrier on the way to a land-navigation training site. A still photo looks like an upside-down truck down in a thickly forested gulley. I would expect that the driver made a wrong turn en route to a clearing with a set of bleachers in it and a parking area. As far as I know, 22 men will not fit into an APC; more like 10.
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On my car radio I heard the WP superintendent say that the truck that rolled over and killed cadet an injured 20 other cadets and two trainers was operating in rough terrain and they do that to prepare the cadets for combat. It is a little north of Harriman State Park and probably has about the same terrain: rolling mountains with occasional rock outcroppings. 
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I am calling bullshit on that. Certainty? About 95%.
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The cadets were enroute to land navigation training. Land navigation means using a map, compass, the sun or stars---and these days---probably GPS, to get from point A to point B in the woods or otherwise unmarked areas day or night. The accident was around 6:45 AM.
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My class had that training at West Point. The uniform for that was probably combat boots, cammie pants and shirt, and a soft cap.
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No helmet, rifle, blank ammo, or web gear. You get in the back of a truck with a bench on each side with 10 cadets sitting on each facing each other. In this case, two guys from the regular Army who come to WP for the summer sat in the cab of the truck. They were probably unfamiliar with WP's back country.
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You travel to the training site: a set of bleachers and a parking lot via highway and well-marked dirt roads. The drive there is not training. It is just moving to the best place for the particular class. Probably a set of bleachers they have used for land navigation since 1936 or some such.
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They sure as hell are not going to script a 5-ton truck going into a gulley and flipping upside down in an attempt to give the cadets inside the truck some surprise training in how to survive a 5-ton-truck flipping on top of you.
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The driver probably got lost off the dirt road. Hard to believe. Sounds like no speeding was involved, just a driver backing or driving forward where he could not see the ground. Stupid Reckless. Inadequately trained regarding the dangers of off-road use of the truck. Poorly trained, disciplined and supervised driver. Typical performance by the close-enough-for-government work Army.
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The Supe says it is rough terrain. Not really. There is probably a topo map of it online. Where the contour lines on a top map are close together, it is a steep slope. Otherwise, not. Where I live now, in the West, is rough terrain. The Grand Canyon is rough terrain.
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Should the Supe---WP's first black supe---lose his career over this. I would have to see the testimony of all the witnesses. But it sure sounds like he deserves to lose career for calling this an unavoidable "training" accident caused by simulated combat conditions.
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It sounds like they were merely traveling to an outdoor lecture venue. The plan for after the lecture may have been to break out into small groups and get some practical experience similar to the sport called orienteering after the lecture.
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This is not combat training. Combat training generally involves weapons fire and running around in the woods. This was Boy Scout training. The only injuries should be maybe a paper cut from the edge of the map.
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I predict the Academy will now go silent on the grounds it is under investigation and they will prolong the investigation until the media loses interest in the story. Then they will quietly release some statement that will protect the Academy and the lifers involved in this. They may give an Article 15 (like a traffic ticket) to the spec 4 (or whatever rank) driver. The parents of the dead cadet cannot sue because the federal government has sovereign immunity and a trial would embarrass the academy so they would resist any outside investigation or discussion of the matter.
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And the Army goes rolling along.

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