Unfortunately, training accidents are part of serving in the US military. While these service members take all the appropriate steps to prevent them, the unexpected happens. No matter how much you try to negate it there is always a risk, especially during even remotely adverse weather.
While attending a range on July 21st, the Reservist killed and 9 others injured were hit by a rogue lightning strike. Operating on Range 26, at approximately 11:10 am, the lightning struck these 10 soldiers at a moment’s notice. Given the typically very heavily grounded metal buildings in the nearby vicinity, these types of lightning strikes are incredibly rare. When lightning is spotted, the range usually declares an immediate cease-fire, and will only resume once a bolt hasn’t been seen in at least 15 minutes.
For Gordon spokeswoman Anne Bowman gave a statement to ABC News. “It is with a heavy heart Fort Gordon confirms one of the soldiers injured in the lightning strike this afternoon succumbed to their injuries. No name will be released until the next of kin have been notified.” As for the soldiers who were injured, all she would say is that these soldiers “sustained injuries associated with a lightning strike at one of their training areas. We know there were injuries, but we don’t know the extent of those injuries.”
Given the relatively small size of Fort Gordon, the Fort Gordon’s Department of Emergency Services and EMS responded to the scene immediately and rushed the injured to the Dwight David Eisenhower Medical Center on base. While this is also a smaller medical center, they are relatively well equipped, and capable of handling the treatment.
Any time these kinds of injuries occur an investigation is launched, and with one death it is likely to be under even more scrutiny. With no clear indication being given of where they were on the range, or how close previous lightning strikes had been, there are too many variables to work out for the moment.
The summertime is the most active part of the year for Reservists and National Guardsmen. With annual training exercises being conducted, and the competitions going on between units and organizations, it’s more than possible that one of these was going on then. Should that be the case, the level of investigation that will go on will only increase.
Unfortunately, these kinds of things happen if you serve long enough. Just like in any high-risk profession, the longer you do it, the more opportunities exist for something to be miscalculated and go wrong. Obviously, these risks depend on the job they are doing, and where they are serving, but the increased risk because of the occupation in and of itself is there. Nobody signs up expecting it to be all sunshine and rainbows, but a lightning strike while on the range is not anticipated.
Typically, the protocol is to stack arms away from the lean-to shelter on the range, but within eyesight and a reasonable distance. This way they are not walking around with lightning rods on their backs or in their hands. While the weapon may get wet, they don’t rust immediately and can be dried out appropriately. By keeping their wits about them and monitoring the situation, the activities like a live fire range can continue safely and with minimal delays. Only time will tell how this will all play out. For now, though, may the injured recover, and the fallen rest easy.