Risky Business?


Having survived fierce combat and unrelenting stress, some young servicemembers are returning home and replacing that adrenaline rush with reckless behavior, such as motorcycle racing or binge drinking. The U.S. military has noticed and is acting aggressively to stop this problem in its tracks.

October 2005 was a heartbreaking month for the U.S. Marine Corps. During that single 31-day period, five Camp Lejeune Marines were involved in serious motorcycle wrecks. Three were killed, and a fourth lost a leg.

Four of the five had just returned from Anbar Province—one of the most dangerous regions in Iraq. Having survived fierce combat there, they came home to waiting family and friends, only to lose it all in accidents that were most likely avoidable.

Officials at Camp Lejeune took quick action. Lt. Gen. James F. Amos, commander of the II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), ordered a one-day stand-down in November so the camp could refocus on safety, especially among motorcycle owners. New initiatives were instituted, and renewed emphasis was placed on existing safety programs.

Since the start of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, a growing concern within the military has been mishaps resulting from risky behavior among returning personnel. Motorcycle accidents, which (since 2001) have killed more American troops than fighting in Afghanistan, are just one aspect of the problem. Other potentially deadly behaviors include reckless driving, driving while impaired, binge drinking, and illicit drug use, report military officials.

According to Public Affairs Officer Maj. Curtis Hill, USMC, in the first quarter of FY ’06, II MEF suffered six motor vehicle fatalities. By comparison, in all of FY ’05, the group had eight fatalities caused by motor vehicle accidents.

Why the risky behavior?

There are a variety of reasons why returning troops are engaging in risky behavior following redeployment, say military officials and others. For many, thrill seeking through motorcycle racing, reckless driving, and other activities is a replacement for the adrenaline rush that became an almost daily part of their lives while fighting overseas.

“GIs often find themselves ‘stress deprived’ when they return home because they become used to the high level of stimulation they experienced in the combat zone,” explains Lt. Col. Michael L. Russell, Ph.D., command psychologist for the Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va. “They often feel that something is missing as they decompress from that stressful experience, so they frequently engage in high-risk behavior.”

Brig. Gen. John Wissler, commanding general of the 2nd Marine Logistics Group, II MEF, Camp Lejeune, agrees. “Marines see and do a lot [in a combat zone]. They’re running on extreme amounts of adrenaline, so when they come back, there’s an adjustment period,” he says. “We have had a transition program in effect since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom but found it needed improvement, and we have continued to improve the program since 2003. We found our returning Marines were getting the briefings too late in their return; they were focused on coming home and seeing their loved ones, and the readjustment lecture was just drowned out by the emotion of the return and reunion.”

Often facilitating this potentially dangerous “need for speed” is the servicemembers’ discretionary income from sign-up bonuses, combat pay, and other incentives. “They’ve been thinking about what they’re going to do with that money for six months, and that’s when we see the motorcycles and the cars,” says Col. Mark Tabert, former safety director for II MEF.

Risky behavior is also how some new Marines try to prove their mettle to the more experienced members in their unit. “We have a lot of young Marines coming in [who] are joining units with battle-hardened veterans,” Tabert says. “They want to join the club and feel accepted, and the way they do that is to show a certain amount of bravado. It’s that type of behavior that we have to stop.”

A history of risk taking

Risky behavior among returning troops is not a new phenomenon. “We know that it happened in great numbers after the Civil War,” says Russell. “People became restless, and that actually spurred the cowboy mythos. These were Civil War soldiers who couldn’t settle down on the farm, so they went out West searching for adventure. We know it happened after World War I, World War II, and [the] Vietnam [War] as well.”

During World War II, the adrenaline need after returning home was mitigated by the weeks it sometimes took for GIs to travel from a war zone to the U.S. “They came back on troop ships, so by the time they got home they had decompressed quite a bit,” Russell says. “As a result, we didn’t see quite the same amount of dramatic behavior as we do today.

“We probably handled it the worst during [the] Vietnam [War],” Russell adds. “Soldiers got on the plane in Vietnam and a few weeks later they were civilians. Nothing was done to help them decompress. With the current conflicts, troops are going over as units and coming back as units. They have their buddies there — people they can talk to — so they don’t feel as isolated.”

In Iraq and Afghanistan, returning Marines receive Return and Reunion briefings and Warrior Transition briefings within 30 days of their return, while still in country.

“Return and Reunion briefings are really three-phased events,” says Wissler. “The first phase occurs in theater before a Marine leaves the combat environment. Designated personnel in the organization begin talking about potential risky behaviors in an effort to get returning Marines to start thinking and talking about it and, more importantly, to try to prevent those behaviors because of the negative impact they can have on the individual and unit readiness.”

The second phase is three to five days of mandatory downtime, which is programmed into the Marines’ return home. During this period, Marines engage in small group discussions and education to encourage them to think through what life will be like when they come back. And before their initial liberty period, the Marines receive another series of Return and Reunion and Warrior Transition briefings, says Wissler. All Marines are evaluated again 30 days after their return, and those who show signs of risky behavior or other problems receive help.

In addition to this, says Wissler, is a new policy generated by Amos called the Force Preservation Program, which calls for leaders at all levels to focus more closely on their Marines in an effort to prevent risky behavior.

“Every Marine in the [Marine Logistics Group] is assigned what I call a ‘safety mentor,’ ” Wissler explains. “That’s an
individual in the chain of command who is responsible for evaluating that Marine’s behavior, both on duty and off duty, and determining by his conduct and performance a risk category of high, medium, or low. If a Marine is classified as high risk, he may not receive the same expanded liberty as the other unit members, or he may have to check in with his mentor more often. All of those parameters are set to make sure that we don’t miss that oncoming freight train of risky behavior.

“Our leadership up and down the chain of command is well-attuned to the potential for risky behavior, and I think that has helped ensure that we’re engaging it across the entire spectrum of leadership within the command,” Wissler says. “We haven’t been successful in every case, but we have seen slight decreases in some areas.”

Addressing the problem

The other branches of the military also are working aggressively to reduce risky behavior among their members.

The Naval Safety Center in Norfolk, Va., for example, has instituted a variety of programs and initiatives designed to make sailors and Marines aware of the consequences of risky behavior and to always behave with safety in mind.

“In terms of fatalities, the first quarter of FY ’06 was the worst in 16 years,” says Capt. Bill Glenn, director of shore safety programs. He says the entire Navy and Marine Corps “had 46 Navy traffic safety fatalities and 29 Marine traffic safety fatalities, which are almost our numbers for an entire year. In addition, we had eight Navy and three Marine off-duty recreation fatalities.”

Many of the Naval Safety Center traffic safety programs ad-dress what Glenn calls the “five fatal factors”: driving at night, driving without seat belts, driving under the influence, speeding, and fatigue. The campaigns are directed at all sailors and Marines, not just those returning from duty overseas.

The Naval Safety Center is pulling out all the stops in trying to educate sailors and Marines, according to Marketing Manager Evelyn Odango. “We’re engaged in a variety of joint ventures as well as a big outreach campaign,” she says. “We give sailors and Marines the tools to become more responsible and accountable for their actions.” Naval Safety Center programs include:
* strategic partnerships with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and Recording Artists, Athletes and Actors Against Drunk Driving to produce public service announcements and other safety-related materials;
* the production of social marketing videos, including one about the importance of wearing seat belts, Heaven Can Wait;
* the development of special focus groups in which young sailors and Marines discuss why they engage in high-risk activities. One focus group discussion aboard the USS George Washington resulted in a more aggressive campaign against drunk driving, notes Odango; and
* a seasonal campaign called The Critical Days of Summer that focuses on off-duty safety. Topics include motorcycle riding, water safety, road rage, and drinking and driving.
In addition, the Defense Safety Oversight Committee has interest in a unique driving risk-assessment questionnaire developed by Dr. Renee Slick, an assistant professor of psychology at Kansas State University. “If we can identify those people who have a propensity to take risks, we can focus on them rather than casting our efforts across the whole Navy,” says Glenn. “We prefer to place our efforts where they will do the most good.”

The First Flag Reporting Process is another Navy initiative aimed at reducing risky behavior among sailors and Marines, reports Chuck Roberts, traffic, recreation, and off-duty safety division head. When a fatality occurs, the details of the incident are reported to that command’s first admiral. “The Naval Safety Center is a player in that,” Roberts says. “We get a copy of the reporting process, and if we see a problem that we think needs to be addressed by the fleet, we’ll put out a worldwide message.”

The Army also is ramping up efforts to reduce high-risk activities among soldiers, says Kelly Widener, public affairs officer, Army Combat Readiness Center, Fort Rucker, Ala.

“We’re providing important tools [in this effort],” Widener says. “One of them is the POV Driving Assessment Tool, which is designed to reinforce safety techniques, such as staying alert, getting adequate sleep, and not drinking and driving. There is also the Army Accident Reporting System, a loss-reporting process that enhances risk awareness through the evaluation of all types of force reducers, including accidents, combat, medical, criminal, and suicide.” In addition, the Army offers vehicle inspections on request, rider safety programs, and, like the Marine Corps and the Navy, a motorcycle mentoring program in which experienced riders take new riders under their wings.

“The Army is acknowledging the issue and taking steps to reduce incidents of risky behavior,” Widener says. “The Combat Readiness Center is not looking at just combat casualties anymore. We’ve broadened our focus to include any type of loss to our force and have put a much greater emphasis on off-duty activities.”

The Bottom line

Reducing the incidence of unnecessarily risky activities is vital because careers, lives, and even military readiness are potentially at stake, conclude officials.

“Everybody counts,” says Glenn. “Our armed forces are getting a little smaller, which is why it’s so important that we keep everyone up and 100-percent ready. I don’t believe we’ve seen a tremendous decline in readiness, but certainly mishaps from risky behavior can have an effect on small units. Patrol crafts, for example, have only 30 people. If one person on a ship were to be killed in a mishap, it would affect that command tremendously.”

High-risk activities also can affect a servicemember’s military career, says Tabert. “If a Marine officer is cited for DUI, it’s almost guaranteed that he or she will not get promoted,” he says. “It’s the same for senior enlisted personnel. Risky behavior can be a deathblow to a Marine’s career. There is now a zero-tolerance policy. We expect sound judgment from all of our people.”
Not only that but it is an OLD cut and paste.

I am sure that the guys coming back from WW2/Vietnam NEVER EVER EVER got up to any of those sort of things. :roll:


Risky Business

By Don Vaughan
Fall 2006
you are aware aren't you, that Lawrence of Arabia was a fan of "the love between two men, that dare not speak it's name"?

I'd hate to think you were accidentally aligning yourself with an advocate of man to man bum love.
Trip_Wire said:


Risky Business

By Don Vaughan
Fall 2006
Funny that but I discussed that same incident last year on another site and made the same points.

Troops returning from combat drink to much and **** around, some of them get hurt and a certain percentage get killed. It was ever thus, I am sure that the 5th legion probably lost a couple of guys after the invasion in 55BC.

Soldiers acting like prats and hurting themselves is nothing new.
Would that be Lawrence of Arabia that died in a Motorcycle smash After returning from the war. How can it be! Riding bikes to fast as a replacement for adrenaline is a new phenomenondoodo do do doo.

I have the highest respect for Thomas Edward Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) as a soldier and hero of your Nation. I could careless about the rumors about his sexual preferences, etc. Perhaps, his nasty treatment by the Turks had somthing to do with these rumors.

I also have much respect for the lessons to be learned by reading his book 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom.' from which I take my quote from. The book is required reading for all American Special Forces soldiers.

I suggest that that you all read through this attached site, if you have any question on his being a hero, etc.

Did I question his being a hero?

Stark raving queer, But british too and that makes him a damned fine chap!
His work with the Arab league was unprecedented and unrepeatable by all accounts. Oh well never mind back to plan A.
Keeping with the notion that this isn't a new phenonemon, weren't the Hells Angels not formed by like-minded WWII veterans?
Trip_Wire, you do make some good posts and points, but any danger of links and comments as opposed to mindless cut and paste of other documents?!
dutybooty said:
Trip_Wire, you do make some good posts and points, but any danger of links and comments as opposed to mindless cut and paste of other documents?!
I try to do that, when I have a comment, or opinion to go with a particular post. I do seem to have attacted some 'pesky critters,' that seem to like to use every word I say and most posts that I make here their business to attack, for one reason or the other. They seem to delight in it and for the most part, it is always the same critters.

I'm sorry you find this post "mindless." The article is new; however, the problem is not. The US Armed Force's current problem; however, is worse then it has ever been, in past times. It isn't just the traffic accidents or reckless motorcycle riding that is the real problem here. We have had a number of murders by returning soldiers, usually their wives or family members. Also other crimes.

Just this month, here in the Seattle/Tacoma area, we had a bank robbery by three Airborne Rangers from the 2nd Ranger BN, 75th Ranger Regiment. This is of course, is a SOCOM unit and its soldiers an elite unit. They used unit body armour, pistols and AK-47s that they smuggled back from Iraq or Afganistan in this robbery.

(This incident was also in the writers mind, when the article was written.)

Here among LE officials, there has been a lot of talk, of how bad this robbery could have gone, if the LE units responding had caught them in the bank. (Firefight/Hostages)

What we have here, is (3) combat experienced elite soldiers, armed with full auto weapons and wearing body armour, against LE units responding with pistols, shotguns and maybe semi-auto carbines with light body armour, that the AK round would go through like butter. consensus was, that it would have been a blood bath for LE and people in the area.


Pillager said:
Would that be Lawrence of Arabia that died in a Motorcycle smash After returning from the war. How can it be! Riding bikes to fast as a replacement for adrenaline is a new phenomenondoodo do do doo.
Don't forget the adrenaline rush of becoming a crab. :D :D
rockhoppercrab said:
Pillager said:
Would that be Lawrence of Arabia that died in a Motorcycle smash After returning from the war. How can it be! Riding bikes to fast as a replacement for adrenaline is a new phenomenondoodo do do doo.
Don't forget the adrenaline rush of becoming a crab. :D :D
Indeed. An Army Major who thought that life would be sweeter as an SAC.

The library in College Hall Officers' Mess is named after a bufty- as if the pongos don't rip the p1ss enough.

As regards the thrill seeking, how do you think biker gangs in the US got their starts? Hell's Angels were originally WWII aircrews and (by some accounts) your beloved paratroops, Trip- 11th Airborne.
Note: Taken from a post that I made earlier here.:

foggy_balla wrote:
Keeping with the notion that this isn't a new phenonemon, weren't the Hells Angels not formed by like-minded WWII veterans?

TW Wrote:

I've heard that! Nothing I could find here on it.


But here it does mention that!


If one does go to the Hells Angles site above and go to history, they will see where I did find mention of the military connection. As I mentioned in the post above. It, however, doesn't mention the 11th Airborne. Although, I wouldn't be surprised to see WW II Paratroopers, joining a motorcycle club.

I think the point is that no-one here is surprised to see soldiers joining motorcycle clubs.

Which makes the "revelations" in your first post seem a bit tawrdy. Visit the classifieds section of arrse and see how many motrobikes this place can account for.
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