Saturday, April 22, 2006

Negligent discharge policy needs change

Staff Sgt. Tejeda and I were sitting in the dining facility in Tallil a few days back when we heard talk of a negligent discharge from the troops sitting next to us. On my way back to the office after lunch, we spotted a bunch of Air Force MP’s standing around the clearing barrels. So the rumor was true. Some poor servicemember had ruined his or her career by shooting a live round accidentally. (That is, unless the servicemember was an officer.)

This incident caused me to reflect on the stupidity of Army weapons clearing policy. Here are three reasons why the current policy is wrong:

1.) Obviously, the whole point of punishing negligent discharges is to reduce injury and death. Yet nearly all of the people who lose rank for negligent discharges are punished for firing their weapons safely into berms and clearing barrels that are made to stop bullets.

2.) Negligent discharges are punished so harshly that many troops avoid clearing their weapons properly. As one soldier told me “I never pull the trigger when I clear my weapon. If there’s a round in there, you’re just giving yourself an Article 15.” Rather than risk excessive punishment, many soldiers prefer to keep a live round in the chamber of their weapon, increasing the risk of an actual injury.

3.) I learned from Sgt. Marshal Thompson that FOB Diamondback actually did away with clearing barrels in order to reduce negligent discharges. That makes about as much since as raising the speed limit to 200 miles per hour to decrease incidents of speeding.

Negligent discharges outside of controlled environments should be punished as they are now, but those at clearing barrels deserve more lenient punishment. If the Army wants to decrease incidents of death and injury, it will alter the current policy.

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