Janine Davidson

Defense in Depth

Janine Davidson examines the art, politics, and business of American military power.

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The Invisible Cost of Combat Readiness

by Janine Davidson
January 20, 2016

Corporal Derek Detzler, a bugler with the 2nd Marine Division Band, performs Taps during the 32nd Beirut Memorial Observance Ceremony in Jacksonville, North Carolina, Oct. 23, 2015. (Cpl. Todd F. Michalek/U.S. Marine Corps Flickr)

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Last night, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search for twelve Marines lost off the Hawaii coast, missing since Thursday evening. It was a nighttime training mission: according to an eyewitness, two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters collided in a fireball, plummeting into choppy seas. Rescuers have recovered all four of the emergency rafts, but no survivors.

This could mark the deadliest domestic training accident since 2001. The oldest of the missing Marines is Major Shawn Campbell, forty-one, father of four. The youngest is Lance Corporal Ty Hart, twenty-one, a newlywed of only a few months. There are ten more Marines; ten more stories.

There is a special cruelty that comes with accidents like these. For those with friends or loved ones in uniform, we wait with bated breath whenever they go abroad, praying for their safe return. We never expect that they might also die at home.

For fifteen years now, our military has operated at a wartime tempo, pushing the realm of the possible in order to remain the most skilled and lethal force in the world. This carries heavy risk, faced each day by men and women who learn to train the same way they might fight. Significant risk was also borne by Navy and Coast Guard first responders, who spent four days searching a crash area in a storm swell that sometimes exceeded twenty-five feet.

It is a true but tired trope that American society has drifted from those who fight our nation’s wars. Even by this standard, however, the tragedy seems to have remained largely invisible amidst the media obsession with Iowa and New Hampshire. In an election year that bursts with patriotic admiration for the troops, we must not forget to pay attention to the troops themselves.

This is a day to mark the sacrifice of twelve brave Marines. They have given everything to their country. In their passing, they will leave holes that can never be filled.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Barney Rubel

    This latest accident is especially grievous due to the loss of twelve Marines, but naval aviation has been a dangerous business from its inception. Here are some stats: between 1947 when the Navy got its first jet, to 1988 when the USN/USMC got their accident rates down to Air Force levels, the sea services lost, just to accidents, almost 13,000 aircraft and 9000 aircrew. All of this was below the public’s noise level. I lost over 20 friends in my naval aviation career, all but 1 (Scott Speicher) to accidents. We raise our prayers for those in peril in the air.

  • Posted by Josephine

    Courage Dies Never

  • Posted by Buzz Hefti

    Janine: Thanks so much for this article. I responded to a friend:

    “And this is the reason I remain so involved with TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors). Each death means there is an AVERAGE of 10 new survivors (spouse, children, mother, dad, sisters, brothers, fiancées, aunts, uncles, etc.) who need help because of this tragedy. In this case, TAPS has 120 new survivors to help through their grieving period – which I have sadly learned, never, never ends even though most of them are able to go on with their life.” We remember the fallen and so often fail to remember those left behind.

    We just had a TAPS Board meeting and the statistics are startling: Almost 30% of new survivors are the result of suicide – with less than 9% from combat deaths where you would think most would come. Training accidents such as this are actually #4 in circumstances of death. In 2015 TAPS had 4,462 NEW survivors, an average of 12 per day and 372 per month, the second highest total in the last five years. Most people believe the number should go down because the “War” is “over” the President says. The article below proves differently – and to most Americans it’s merely a one day news story, at best.

    An excellent article!!

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