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Monday, December 01, 2008
Living Through a Deployment Only To Die At Home
As a retired Chief Petty Officer, I certainly understand the emotions involved in returning home after a long deployment. During your deployment, your actions and freedoms were severely restricted and you are no doubt looking forward to quickly regaining those freedoms. Specifically the freedom to get on a motorcycle or behind the wheel of a car to go anywhere you want, for as long as you want.
That return to freedom has resulted in some shockingly high fatality rates due to motor vehicle collisions. Note that I say collision and not accidents. Accidents are something you have no control over. Motor vehicle (MV) collisions result from someone making a poor choice that sets in motion a chain of events that lead to a collision. MV collisions are preventable.
All of the military services have experienced a major increase in traffic fatalities since the beginning of the Iraq war. From FY 02 to FY08, the Navy and Marines have lost a combined total of 857 members in Privately Owned Vehicle (POV) collisions. In just the last three fiscal years, the Army has lost a total of 370 soldiers. More than half of these deaths were on motorcycles. The majority happened at night and on weekends. More than one third involved speed or alcohol. In more than half of the fatal collisions, seat belts were not used.
You probably had some training sessions with blood and guts videos before the end of your deployment to remind you to be careful when you return to driving. However a lot of those training sessions neglect to remind you of the behaviors you need for safe driving. Before returning home, it is important to stop and think about those driving behaviors that could get you into some real trouble. With that in mind, lets look at some of the tools you will need to survive at home.
For all those long months you have lived a daily existence in a high stress, adrenaline rush environment. It takes time to readjust to the “laid back” civilian environment. Those of you who have deployed before can probably relate to the odd feeling of being in a combat or shipboard environment one day and a safe, comfortable home environment the next. While it is a good kind of stress, the return home puts us in a different kind of stressful environment. Remember that “good stress” is still stress and that stress takes a toll on our bodies. Depending on the environment you left behind, it could take days, weeks, or months to decompress from your deployment. The adrenaline rush you have lived on combined with the adrenaline rush of returning home can lead to impulsive behaviors or cause you to be easily distracted from the important task of concentrating on driving. Becoming aware of that fact is the first step in overcoming it. It may not be possible, at first, for you to get down from that adrenaline rush and relax enough to concentrate on your driving, so, even though it may not square with your take charge personality, it may be wise to let your significant other take the wheel for a while.
During your deployment you probably encountered the fight or flight response on a regular basis. That life saving reflex allows us to respond to an emergency situation by redirecting blood flow to the large muscles and giving us a big boost of adrenaline to either fight or run away. After the emergency was over that you probably shook like a leaf. That wasn’t fear but rather the excess adrenaline in your body having no where else to go. Driving on an American expressway is nothing compared to driving in Baghdad, but you still have to make emergency decisions and, when you do, the body’s fight or flight response automatically kicks in. All these little adrenaline rushes can quickly lead to fatigue and that can lead to a case of Driving While Drowsy. If you are going on a long trip, remember to take rest breaks at least every two hours or every 100 miles.
For those of you who drove in Iraq, you stayed alive by driving very fast down the center of the road and looking for every suspicious object that could disguise an IED. That way of driving became a reflex action. In other words, you did it without thinking about it. That reflex action is not an easy thing to turn off when you get home and it may take you a while to realize that the piece of trash next to the curb is just that; a piece of trash and not an IED. Those very important reflexes that kept you alive in Iraq could lead to a collision here at home. Again, let someone else drive until you can learn to relax and feel safe again.
Obviously alcohol is a major contributor to MV collisions and fatalities. When you get home, relax, have a few drinks. You deserve it. Just make sure you use a designated driver or have an alternate means of transportation.
Remember that the freedom from all the restrictions doesn’t mean freedom from the need to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle or a seat belt in your car.
To learn more about driver safety and education please visit our Driver Safety Alerts at http://www.nationalsafetycommission.com.
Welcome home. We are grateful for your service and we don’t want to lose you now; especially when it can be so easily prevented.