While it is widely understood that U.S. military service members face the risk of injury or death while deployed overseas, far less attention is paid to the fact that those same individuals face a similar risk during the rigorous training they endure before combat.
In fact, year-end statistics obtained from the U.S. Army by the Washington Examiner show that training accidents tragically killed 20 soldiers and seriously injured at least 70 others in 2019.
The Examiner noted in a report Saturday that those figures came in slightly higher than 2018, when 18 soldiers were killed and another 66 injured in training accidents.
According to the Examiner, “the 20 soldiers killed in the past year died in a variety of accidents” including several involving vehicles like an M1 Abrams tank and a Humvee.
But while military training deaths often garner high-profile headlines, retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr told the Examiner that this year’s numbers shouldn’t necessarily be alarming.
“Military training is inherently dangerous, and while any loss of life is tragic, it is difficult to reduce the numbers to zero,” Spoehr, who heads the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, told the outlet.
He went on: “Military aviation, operating vehicles over open terrain at night, weapons firing with live ammunition are among the military skills that must be practiced but carry high risks. A rise from 18 to 20 training deaths in a year, while unfortunate, is not a statistically significant rise.”
“Deter and defeat”
Still, some have suggested that the slight increase in training accidents may be the result of a greater emphasis placed on combat readiness in recent years as part of President Donald Trump’s effort to ensure the U.S. military remains the world’s most powerful fighting force. Such was the view of a former U.S. Army pilot named Bradley Bowman, who leads the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
“America’s ability to deter and defeat great power adversaries depends on the readiness of our forces. That is impossible without tough and realistic training,” Bowman told the Examiner.
He added: “The challenge for Army leaders is to provide training opportunities that simulate real combat as closely as possible while keeping soldier safety as a top priority. That is easier said than done.”
But while experts agree that not all training accidents are preventable, Bowman says they can all be used as learning opportunities.
He told the Examiner that each incident deserves “a thorough investigation in order to learn the appropriate lessons and prevent training casualties in the future.”