Private's death caused by "systemic shortfalls"

Published: Dec. 18, 2007 at 8:18 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 20, 2007 at 10:13 PM CST
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Lawton_Fort Sill's commander today released the results of the official investigation into the death of a Soldier who was killed on October 4, 2007 when a machine gun accidentally discharged during training. Private Daniel Patrick Fisher, 19, of Bassett, Virginia, was pronounced dead at a local hospital after being struck in the abdomen by a .50 caliber machine gun round after it was accidentally discharged during a training event on Fort Sill's East Range shortly after 3 p.m. that day.

The training was intended to teach new Soldiers in basic training how to load and unload the weapon using only dummy ammunition. The training was not supposed to have involved actual live-fire of the weapon. According to Major General Peter M. Vangjel, Commanding General of the U.S.

Army Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill, the investigation determined that trainees unknowingly loaded a live .50 caliber round, which had inadvertently become mixed with dummy ammunition, into the weapon, resulting in the accidental discharge.

Private Fisher was struck by the round as he was walking toward the training site in front of the machine gun. The investigation concluded that there were two root causes of the accident. - A violation of muzzle awareness principles.  Drill sergeants and leaders lost sight of the fundamental principle of treating each weapon as if it is loaded and not pointing it in the direction of personnel during training.

Even though no live-fire was to have taken place that day, the machine gun should not have been oriented in such a way that trainees would be in front of it. - Lack of control and accountability of ammunition.  The investigation concluded that a trainee found a live .50 caliber round on the ground and inadvertently mixed it into a can containing dummy ammunition during the previous day's training.

Noncommissioned officers failed to properly inspect and account for the ammunition prior to executing the next day's training, resulting in the live round going undetected.  The investigation also identified several contributing factors, including poorly planned training, ammunition misidentification, inadequate risk assessment and inadequate inspection of the unit's training prior to the incident.

Vangjel said the investigation determined the accident occurred as a result of systemic shortfalls and individual negligence on the part of several members of the 434th Field Artillery Brigade, but was not a result of any criminal intent.  Consequently, administrative and disciplinary actions are being taken against leaders at several echelons in the brigade.

The 434th Brigade conducts Initial Entry Training, or Basic Combat Training, for recruits who are entering the Army. Private Fisher was in his 6th week of training when the accident occurred. Vangjel said all of the leaders involved with systemic failures contributing to the incident have received formal letters of reprimand.

In addition, specific leaders have been informed of the Commanding General's intent to relieve them from their duties, and disciplinary action is currently ongoing.  The investigation also concluded that the trainees practicing on the weapon should not be held accountable because they were under the supervision of their drill sergeants and were not familiar enough with .50 caliber ammunition to distinguish a live round from a dummy round.

Press release by Nancy Elliot - Fort Sill