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The worst news you'd ever hear: the Sailor and his six-year-old son in the front seat were pronounced dead at the scene. The three-year-old daughter in the back seat was airlifted to a local hospital with serious injuries. The driver of the tractor-trailer was unhurt. Everyone had been wearing seatbelts.

A geo-bachelor was standing a routine security watch one Thursday evening at the gate of his Texas naval base. He was eagerly awaiting a call from his wife, telling him that she was going to the hospital to give birth to their third child. He got the call, and after being secured the following morning, he hopped in his Honda Civic and started the 300-mile drive home. He had the weekend off and nine more days of leave.

He was excited to rejoin his wife (a soldier) and finally witness the birth of one of their children; his first two kids had been born while he was deployed. He arrived at the hospital, and his wife gave birth Friday evening. Over the course of the weekend, he entertained guests, took care of his other two children and spent as much time as he could with his wife and new baby.

Early Monday morning, the proud father and his two oldest kids left their home to drive back to his command. He had to check out on leave (in person), and he thought that he had to quickly enroll his newest child in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). At the command, he updated his record and picked up his leave papers, then began the nearly six-hour drive home.

Two hours later, fatigue finally--and terribly--took its toll. Driving east along a two-lane highway with a 70 mph speed limit, he drifted into oncoming traffic. A tractor-trailer driver tried to avoid him, but the Sailor swerved in the same direction and collided head-on.

One of the particularly tragic things about this event was that there was no immediate need for the Sailor to return to his base that Monday to complete a DEERS entry for his dependent. He could have done it anytime within the next 60 days. We don't know if he realized this or if his command had provided him that information.

Since the Sailor had been working a night shift, he would be fatigued, less vigilant, and have a higher risk of micro-sleeps in the middle of the afternoon. Given the fact that his sleep pattern had been altered during the weekend by caring for his two children, entertaining guests and visiting with his wife and newborn at the hospital, the Sailor was at least somewhat sleep deprived. He shouldn't have been driving long distances.

Requiring this Sailor to check out on leave in person reveals that leadership did not fully examine the ramifications of the risks this Sailor was facing. Had they assessed this Sailor's plans, they would have realized he was engaging in a high-risk endeavor: driving nearly six hours to his command and another six hours home, plus the administrative time required to check out on leave and enroll in DEERS.

Leaders, evaluate your personnel's leave and liberty travel plans, specifically with fatigue-awareness in mind. Ask direct questions and modify the plans to mitigate risks. Some good tools are available: the Travel Risk Planning System (TRiPS) and ORM.

RELATED ARTICLE: Sidebar: DEERS and New Dependents

A child born to two active-duty service members can be "sponsored" by either parent. If the father chooses to sponsor, he must return to the active-duty location where his PSD is located to update the Page 2 for the new dependent to be enrolled in DEERS. In this case, the child is issued an identification card, which the mother should carry to get care for the child; it has the correct sponsor's SSN.

If the parent doesn't update DEERS during the 60-day window, the child reverts to TRICARE standard coverage and can't be treated in a military facility until registration is completed. If the parent fails to update DEERS within one year, any medical claims for care in the civilian sector will be denied. Again, however, the child is still covered, and when the paperwork is completed, they will be covered retroactively from birth.

Dan Dray is a traffic safety specialist at the Naval Safety Center
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Author:Dray, Dan
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2010
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