3rd Brigade at Fort Benning accident free for 368 days

benw@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 16, 2013 

Members of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning have gone 368 days without a traffic fatality, a post official said today.

Motorcycle safety has been a big focus for members of the Sledgehammer Brigade at Kelley Hill. The program started after some 2,000 troops deployed to Kuwait in June 2012 and continued on post when they returned in early March.

“The biggest thing I try to do is to get people’s attention before an event happens, to prevent it,” said Robert Topolewski, safety and occupational health specialist for the 3rd Brigade.

Topolewski couldn’t point to any single effort in preventing accidents, but attributed success to the brigade commander, the command sergeant major and other leaders.

“There are a lot of different things in preventing accidents,” he said. “There is not any one silver bullet. It’s just doing it right all the time. A part of it is setting an example and we do have a lot of training.”

Troops were in Kuwait when they learned about the deaths of two brigade soldiers on Interstate 20 after the car they were riding in apparently hydroplaned and collided with a truck last July.

“You have a fatal accident, it has a bad effect on the soldiers morale wise,” Topolewski said.

Three months before soldiers started returning to the post, Topolewski said motorcycle riders went through a class that included a motorcycle simulator. “We had a class for every one of our motorcycle riders,” he said.

Soldiers with cars were given an eight-hour safety class. Topolewski said the brigade has more than 300 motorcycle riders but 231 have officially signed up for a mentorship program. Under the program, soldiers get their motorcycles inspected and they go through training courses.

In and effort to reduce accidents among the highest at-risk drivers, young soldiers, Topolewski said soldiers are put through Road Rages, an Army program. If a soldier is going on leave, Topolewski said the vehicle gets inspected for good tires, brakes and other parts in good working condition.

“If the guy’s got a bad tire, we are not going to sign off on the leave until you get your tires,” he said. “If there is an issue with the vehicle, we will say no, fix this. Bring it back and we will sign off when you do.”

Although some soldiers may not agree with the action, Topolewski said no one is asking or forcing them to do something that is not in their best interest. “I always tell commanders that a lot of it is getting young people to develop positive habits,” he said. “Some of them got them when we get them and some of them needed to work on them.”

Safety training could be viewed as similar to getting someone to wear seat belts while riding in a vehicle.

“How do you get that person who hasn’t worn a seat belt before he came to you to put his seat belt on every time he sits in a vehicle,” Topolewski said. “Whether it is a government, tactical vehicle or his privately owned vehicle, it is not easy."

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