Navy automobile coaching accidents, many deadly, reveal defective tools, poor coaching – 60 Minutes

Final month, two Marines have been killed and 17 injured – not in battle, however in transit: their truck flipped over on a freeway exterior of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. And it is not as unusual as you’d assume. We discovered that as a dad or mum or associate of somebody within the army, you are far likelier to get that dreaded “name” and be taught your beloved was killed in an accident, quite than in fight. And lots of – far too many – of the accidents contain armored autos throughout coaching. 

  First Lieutenant Conor McDowell

First Lieutenant Conor McDowell, a platoon chief within the Marines, was out on a coaching mission in a light-weight armored automobile at Camp Pendleton, California, in Could 2019, when he hit an unmarked ditch coated in brush. 

Lesley Stahl: Describe what occurred.

Susan Flanigan: He known as out to his males, “rollover, rollover, rollover” pushed his gunner within the turret subsequent to him down below the armor however he could not get himself down in time and it careened into that ditch, rolled over, and crushed him. 

Conor was Susan Flanigan and Michael McDowell’s solely little one. 

  Susan Flanigan and Michael McDowell

Michael McDowell: At first I assumed that this was what occurs while you prepare such as you imply to struggle. However after we went to San Diego to carry him again I had a few idle moments within the lodge. And I Googled “rollover” and “army.” And I found that at Pendleton a month earlier than, a Marine raider had died in a rollover. So I Googled additional again, “the Military,” et cetera. And all of the sudden I noticed a complete collection of deaths in rollovers of army autos, all types: Humvees, Gentle-Armored Automobiles, Bradley Preventing Automobiles. After which I spotted this isn’t a single incident. This can be a systemic drawback.

Lesley Stahl: Throughout coaching?

Michael McDowell: Throughout coaching. I can settle for individuals dying in fight. However when you’re coaching in your personal nation and also you’re dying needlessly in preventable accidents, this can be a large drawback which must be fastened. 

To repair it, McDowell saved digging and what he uncovered, he says, was so critical and but so routinely uncared for that it led to a scathing report by the Authorities Accountability Workplace: the GAO discovered near 4,000 of those accidents within the Military and Marine Corps from 2010 to 2019, leading to 123 deaths, almost two-thirds of which concerned rollovers. And shockingly: most occured in daylight, on common roads, even in parking heaps. 

Michael McDowell: It is the tragedy of low expectations. That it is anticipated individuals will die in coaching.

Lesley Stahl: Are you saying that, that they count on this? What are you saying?

Michael McDowell: It is considered that is the value of being a soldier or a Marine.

Lesley Stahl: In coaching?

Michael McDowell:  Sure.

Lesley Stahl:  They count on–

Michael McDowell: “Coaching is harmful. These items occur.”  

However they do not simply “occur.” The GAO concluded there was usually “improper supervision”. That drivers have been poorly skilled and autos – inadequately inspected. Some accidents concerned a number of elements, as was the case with Christopher-Bobby Gnem, a Navy sailor. 

  Christopher-Bobby Gnem

There have been screams of pleasure from Bobby’s mother, Nancy, when he shocked her one Christmas. 

A yr and a half later, in the summertime of 2020, he and 15 Marines have been coaching off Camp Pendleton in Amphibious Assault Automobiles – or AAVs – large armored vessels Marines used on each land and sea. His stepdad, Peter Vienna, says the Marines had no enterprise sending out the AAVs utilized in his son’s drill. 

Peter Ostrovsky, Peter Vienna and Nancy Vienna

Peter Vienna: They’re 40 years previous they usually have been in horrible situation. And as a substitute of asking for higher situation AAVs, which there were– there have been loads of them. they’d gotten these, all of them that have been in poor situation.

Peter Ostrovsky: So that they’re sitting in a parking zone on Camp Pendleton baking within the solar. They’re deteriorating. 

Peter Ostrovsky’s son, Jack Ryan, was additionally on that mission. 

Jack Ryan

Peter Ostrovsky: Every week previous to the mission, we have been talking on the phone. And he made the remark that “AAVs sink on a regular basis.” They’ve known as them, and he known as it a “floating coffin.”

Lesley Stahl: Do you assume he was anxious?

Peter Ostrovsky: Oh, completely.

Two AAVs broke down and their sons’ designated automobile sprang an engine leak. And but the mission was not aborted.

Lesley Stahl: What was the drive to go ahead with defective tools?

Peter Ostrovsky: They’re attempting to maintain a schedule. [To] keep on time.

Peter Vienna: The security of our sons took a second place to finishing a coaching mission. This is not fight. This is not “acquired to do it proper now.” That is coaching. There ought to have been an all cease at many factors. 

An  Amphibious Assault Automobile

However 16 younger males crowded into the AAV as seen in a video that one of many Marines despatched his dad. It nearly instantly began taking over water: ankle stage; calf stage; seat stage, as one-by-one the AAV programs have been failing.

Peter Vienna: The communication system was down. They have been at midnight utilizing their – the lights on their cell telephones to attempt to see.

Lesley Stahl: Wait, wait, wait. The lights did not work?

Peter Vienna: The security lighting that is presupposed to perform – did not perform.

Lesley Stahl: Have been there lifeboats?

Peter Vienna: No. So there’s presupposed to be two security boats within the water. They went with none.


That is the AAV on the backside of the ocean in underwater video we obtained via a freedom of data request. Seven males made it out alive. 9 didn’t. Seems most had acquired little or no security coaching on the best way to escape. 

Lesley Stahl: It does not make sense.

Peter Vienna: There’s a lot of it that does not make sense. They have been taking over water for 45 minutes but they have been nonetheless discovered on the backside of the ocean with all their– their gear nonetheless on, their physique armor.

Lesley Stahl: And that– they need to not have—that ought to have come off? 

Peter Vienna: They did not know what to do. They have been all taking a look at one another, like, “What does this imply, what can we do?”

The 9 who died within the AAV accident.

Lesley Stahl: , the Marine Corps did its personal investigation, and the Marine Corps concluded that this, and I’ll use the direct quote, was “preventable.”  

Peter Ostrovsky: The highest-down incompetence, the shortage of readiness, Actually the shortage of obligation of look after our sons– it was stunning.

Lesley Stahl: Are you able to sue the army or the commanders for what occurred?

Peter Vienna: There’s the Feres doctrine – makes that unimaginable. 

The Feres Doctrine prevents anybody from suing the army for something that occurs to service-members on the job, irrespective of how egregious.

Nancy Vienna: The largest factor for me is, these boys weren’t protected. I’ve this imaginative and prescient in my head – nightmares of the AAV taking place. What was his final phrase?

This was one of many worst coaching accidents in Marine Corps historical past. However accidents hold coming, and the GAO states much less critical ones are probably under-reported. Christian Avila Taveras, an Military fight medic, was on a coaching drill in 2018 when one automobile broke down so his automobile needed to tow it.

  Christian Avila Taveras

Christian Avila Taveras: That is round 1:30 a.m. perhaps. It is darkish, it is raining, it is muddy. The automobile that we have been towing simply slid and hit us. And so we simply rolled over. And I used to be expelled from the automobile, after which the automobile simply landed on prime of me, pinning me down from the waist down.

Lesley Stahl: So this large monster automobile rolls over on prime of you?

Christian Avila Taveras: Sure. On prime of me. 

His left leg needed to be amputated above the knee.The precise leg was so badly broken, he spent the subsequent two years in rehab, studying the best way to stroll once more. 

And we realized there was one other rollover throughout coaching at that very same place that very same day as Avila Taveras’s. 

The Military advised us there have been fewer automobile deaths final yr, saying most are brought on by human error and inexperience; almost 1 in 5 enlistees be a part of the Military with no driver’s license. 

The Pentagon and Marines declined our interview requests although the brand new protection funds mandates a number of new security provisions, and AAVs will not be utilized in water drills. 

However there are extra steps the army may take that they have not, involving comparatively cheap upgrades to the automobile concerned in most accidents: the Humvee. 

Take a look at footage by IMMI, a security system provider, reveals what can occur inside a Humvee in a rollover.

However watch: drivers may have a greater likelihood when Humvees are retrofitted with IMMI’s restraints and airbags.

One motive there are such a lot of Humvee accidents is numbers: over 100,000 are utilized by the Military alone.  One other trigger is engineering: their excessive middle of gravity makes them liable to flip-over. 

And since humvees have been straightforward targets for IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan, the army added further armor that made them even much less steady. 

We have been invited by Ricardo Protection, a small army contractor, to go well with up for a demo of how unstable these autos may be whereas making turns.


We have been going lower than 30 miles an hour. The 2 yellow bars have been there to forestall us from really tipping over. 

Most Humvees shouldn’t have anti-lock brakes or digital stability management that stop rollovers. However eight years in the past, Ricardo developed them for the Humvee. Ricardo’s president is Chet Gryczan. 

Chet Gryczan: Let’s do the identical factor with the system on, please?

With the system on: all wheels remained firmly on the bottom.

The system works so nicely, it is now necessary in all new Humvees. However what about Humvees already in use? Nicely, Ricardo got here up with a security package that might be put in for about $16,000 per automobile, in about 54,000 of the older Humvees. 

You may make 10 or extra previous autos safer for the value of 1 new automobile. And but, the division of protection is asking for some huge cash for brand spanking new Humvees, however solely a fraction of what is wanted to retrofit previous ones. 

Chet Gryczan: If the funds have been to be authorised right now because the numbers stand, we might have sufficient funding for about 545 autos.

Lesley Stahl: 545 autos out of 54,000? That is it?

Chet Gryczan: That is it, yeah. In order that’s about 1% of the fleet. At that fee, it will take 100 years to get the fleet match.

  Chet Gryczan

Lesley Stahl: A current letter to the Pentagon from a number of congressmen endorses your package. They calculated that the distinction in price between placing your package on and constructing a brand new automobile is about $13 billion. It seems like a no brainer.

Chet Gryczan: Yeah. Why would not you do it? 

Chair of the Armed Companies Subcommittee on Readiness, Congressman John Garamendi, advised us that Congress and the Pentagon’s desire for brand spanking new over upgrades is “usually predicated on conserving protection contractors fed.”

Lesley Stahl: Have you ever made any transfer to say “no person ought to be in a Humvee that does not have anti-lock brakes”?

Michael McDowell: We’ve got tried and I’ve lobbied. We need to enhance security in coaching. As a result of individuals are dying needlessly in preventable accidents. It will not price that a lot. Nevertheless it’s acquired to be carried out. And that is for the American individuals to press their members of Congress.

Produced by Shachar Bar-On. Affiliate producer, Jinsol Jung. Broadcast affiliate, Wren Woodson. Edited by Matthew Lev.

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