11 August 2014

Rethinking 24-Hour Duties

“That’s the way it’s always been” is not a valid reason for the existence of anything.

In my 11 years in the Army I’ve strived to leave each place better than it was when I arrived. I’ve repeatedly spoken out against 24-hour duties and the often unsafe policies associated with them. I’ve been largely ignored.

Every long weekend commands throughout the military give their service members safety briefings where various unsafe acts are discussed, the possible consequences that accompany these acts, and alternatives that should be employed to mitigate these risks. Among the unsafe acts commonly spoken of, driving when tired is often likened to driving drunk.

In May 2013 I spoke with CSM (Retired) Beckman of the US Army Combat Ready / Safety Center. He provided me with the safety statistics regarding accidents where fatigue was present from FY08 – FY12. 

The data he sent me showed 747 of those accidents occurred in a government or privately owned vehicle – 17% of those resulted in a fatality. That’s nearly 127 Soldiers needlessly killed in four years. 

A December 2000 article in the Journal of Sleep Research details a sleep deprivation study that was conducted with 17 males, between the ages of 21–29 years old. As you’d imagine, after 24 hours, alertness and cognitive performance declined. As a commander, do you really want inefficient and ineffective Soldiers as your official representatives? 

In December 2013 Professor Christian Benedict, of Uppsala University in Sweden, released results indicating that going without sleep for just one night causes changes in the brain similar to those that occur after a blow to the head.

He said “during sleep, the brain cleans itself of toxic substances...” and went on to say that his study could support previous studies which linked a lack of sleep with increased risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis.

I fully realize that the military is the fighting force of the United States and that sometimes sacrifices will need to be made. That being said, the sacrifices should be weighed against the benefits recouped from these duties.

I suggest that when service members are placed on 24-hour duties, they be allowed to sleep in rotations when there are two or more Soldiers present for duty. This would allow for the duties to be performed while still curbing at least some of the effects of sleep deprivation. 

Duties such as Charge of Quarters may not even be needed and could be eliminated. Worse still, there are NCOs that live in the barracks who aren’t being properly utilized. If damage to the barracks or sexual assault is a concern, installing cameras in common areas could be the answer. Service members will be less likely to commit these acts if they know they are being recorded and in the long run it would be more cost effective. 

Eliminating even some of these 24-hour duties would result in more Soldiers available to complete the mission. With the rapid downsizing of the Army and military as a whole, personnel are quickly becoming an indispensable asset that is vital to mission success.

Weigh in on the discussion here and connect within the military community.

*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.

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