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“Dismount right!” It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Well, that would depend on the level of detail and frequency of your battle drill rehearsals. In the following case, it wasn’t that simple, and the resulting accident cost one noncommissioned officer his life.

In preparation for deployment, the infantry rifle company planned two weeks of live-fire training, progressing from team-level training through platoon-level training. It was during the platoon-level training that the accident occurred. After securing its first objective, the platoon received an order to continue the mission and assault a second objective, a change to their original plan. Upon arrival at the support-by-fire position for the second objective, the squad leader for the second Stryker vehicle in the platoon gave his squad the command to “dismount right.” His squad did just that, dismounting to the driver’s side of the vehicle, which is the right side of the vehicle if you exit to the rear of the vehicle.

This squad immediately suppressed the objective while the rest of the platoon maneuvered to the left of the objective. As the squad leader attempted to dismount with the squad, his gear tangled in the vehicle and it took him a few minutes to get loose and off the vehicle. When he did dismount, he dismounted right, or out of the left rear (the passenger’s side) of the vehicle. Once he cleared the right side of the vehicle (remember, his squad is on the left side of the vehicle, suppressing the objective), he saw the platoon assaulting the left flank of the objective. As he ran across to join the platoon, the squad leader ran in front of his squad’s support-by-fire position and suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the head. One of his team leaders fired the round that killed him.

When asked the question of which direction would you dismount the vehicle given the command of “dismount right,” an investigation board got differing responses from the unit. Were their battle drills instinctive? Ask yourself, did something as simple as a poorly executed battle drill contribute to this Soldier’s death?

Army doctrine states that a battle drill is a collective action executed by a platoon or smaller element without the application of a deliberate decision-making process. The action is vital to success in combat or critical to preserving life. Battle drills are the necessary building blocks for elements to conduct complex combat operations without loss of life from tactical or accidental hazards. These drills are the “fundamentals” that must be constantly rehearsed until they are second nature for all Soldiers.

In this accident, the platoon received an unexpected change in their original mission. You’ve probably heard that no plan survives the first contact and this is the kind of scenario that the commander wanted the platoon to experience. Well-rehearsed and executed battle drills give a platoon flexibility to react to changing scenarios and help to ensure everyone understands what “dismount right” means. Well-executed battle drills will help to keep your Soldiers safe and in the fight.