Training accidents remind troops that combat isn't the only dangerous time
KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait — Two training accidents in the past week are a stark reminder to American soldiers massing in the Persian Gulf region that combat is not the only time they face danger.
In separate incidents, one soldier was shot in the abdomen and two U.S. personnel were injured when a 25 mm round exploded inside their Bradley fighting vehicle. Both occurred during night training with live ammunition in the Kuwaiti desert.
“We are training at a very high intensity, and we are focused on sharpening our war-fighting capabilities,” said Maj. Michael Birmingham, public affairs officer for the 3rd Infantry Division.
“Right now, the brigade commander is on the range with the preliminary investigation,” Birmingham said in a telephone interview Wednesday morning. “We are going over all of the safety procedures, and we are doing dry-fire rehearsals before going back to live.”
Military officials declined a request to interview soldiers about the live-fire training. Small groups of journalists are being allowed to observe the exercises and interview troops at the discretion of the U.S. Central Command.
Though officials will not discuss specific figures because of security concerns, tens of thousands of American troops are flowing into the region in anticipation of a showdown with Iraq over weapons inspections.
On Tuesday night, a soldier from C Company, 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment was shot in the abdomen during urban warfare training on the Udairi Range, just miles from the Iraqi border.
An Army spokesman said the soldier was in stable condition after surgery, and would possibly be moved to a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.
Military officials are withholding the soldier’s name pending notification of his next of kin. Birmingham said the soldier was struck by a single 5.56 mm round, fired from either an M-16 or an M-249. Both are used in the urban combat training and are mainstays of American infantry squads.
During urban combat drills, which thousands of troops have undergone in recent months, soldiers sweep through a ramshackle series of buildings in a simulation of the door-to-door fighting they might face in Baghdad.
Inside the buildings, the soldiers must quickly identify targets as enemies or civilians, firing on the former.
“We have 400 to 500 soldiers going through the shoot house every day, and this is the first accidental shooting of this type,” Birmingham said. “We know there is high visibility on this training, and we have very experienced safety people on the range. But we also have to give the most realistic training as possible.”
One of those running the urban training complex is Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Gallagher, a veteran of the 1993 Mogadishu battle immortalized in the book “Black Hawk Down.”
Gallagher’s role is to give safety briefs before the units enter the training range, observe them in the course and debrief them afterward, Birmingham said. Gallagher was unavailable for comment on Wednesday because of the ongoing training.
Having high concentrations of troops operating at such high intensity comes with inherent dangers. In operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, only three more Americans were killed in battle than in non-combat incidents. According to Department of Defense figures, 148 servicemembers died in combat; 145 died in non-battle situations.
Late Sunday night, two U.S. personnel were injured when a 25 mm round exploded inside their Bradley fighting vehicle. That accident occurred at the end of a four-day, three-night, live-fire exercise on another part of the Udairi Range.
Military officials identified the injured soldier as Staff Sgt. Marv Fleming, of B Company, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment from Fort Benning, Ga.
Fleming was flown by helicopter to a military hospital with facial and hand injuries. The next day, the 26-year-old soldier was sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he was listed in stable condition.
A 42-year-old contractor from a military training firm also suffered minor injuries, officials said. The man, who was not identified by the Army, works for Military Professional Resources Inc.
That firm, which has dozens of observers and trainers in the Persian Gulf, “provides an experienced observer-controller cadre of prior service military that assist in organizing training events and facilitating our exercises,” an Army press release stated.
A spokesman for MPRI based in Virginia referred calls about their employee and the incident back to the military.
Both accidents are under investigation by military safety offices, officials said.