After the Citadel graduate’s death, a bill in Congress aims to stop military vehicles from rolling over | Military summary

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WASHINGTON – In 2019, Conor McDowell, a Citadel graduate and first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, died instantly when his lightly armored vehicle overturned during a training drill at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, San Diego.

In the months since, the 24-year-old Marine’s family have campaigned with Congress to investigate their son’s death, calling on them to hold the military accountable for hundreds of vehicle rollovers, involving dozens of soldiers over the past decade were killed.

Now, a new bill in Congress entitled “1st Lt. Hugh Conor McDowell Safety in the Armed Forces Equipment Act of 2021” aims to improve the safety and effectiveness of military tactical vehicles in his honor.

Michael McDowell, Conor’s father, said the proposal was one of five bills in the National Defense Authorization Act 2022 related to rollover deaths, but the only one named after the former Citadel cadet.

“We don’t want it to be all about Conor,” McDowell told The Post and Courier. “We want an in-depth investigation.”

The law was introduced by US sensors Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both Maryland Democrats. If passed, “it would help line managers mitigate and prevent fatal training accidents and develop performance criteria and measurable standards for driver training programs,” the senators said in a press release.

The main part of the program involves installing devices in vehicles that record potential hazards, near misses and rollovers so that the military can have updated data during training. The legislation would:

  • Create a pilot program that will record data on Army and Marine Corps tactical vehicles.
  • Identify near misses and potential hazards that would otherwise go undetected without the data recorder.
  • Evaluate the skills of each rider to enable customized training.
  • Create a database for a more consistent implementation of safety programs across plants and units.
  • Ask commanders to incorporate the latest data sets and statistics into security programs.

Companion legislation was introduced to the House of Representatives by US MPs Anthony Brown, D-Md., And Rob Wittman, R-Va.

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“The safety of our young men and women in uniform, especially during training, must be our top priority,” said Brown. “Tactical vehicle accidents can be avoided if we improve our training and ensure a safety culture in the ranks.”

The legislation follows a 103-page report by the Government Accountability Office, the independent investigative arm of Congress, on such rollover. Extensive data was released on July 14th, revealing that training inconsistencies and overconfidence resulted in on-duty deaths and a lack of security guards who can identify hazards during the exercises.

A Mount Pleasant company may have a solution to the military rollover death epidemic

From 2010 to 2019, the services reported 3,753 non-combat accidents, which resulted in 123 service member deaths, the report said. Roll-overs were the deadliest accidents, accounting for 63 percent of the fatalities.

One of these occurred on May 9, 2019, when Conor was leading a light armored vehicle training patrol in Pendleton. The rocky terrain was difficult to navigate during the 10-day training exercise. Despite the use of all the intelligence at their disposal, the eight-wheeled vehicle tipped into a five-meter-high hole that was covered by tall grass. When the 12-ton machine slowly turned its stomach upwards, Conor, according to his family, pushed a lance sergeant who was positioned in the machine gun tower back in at the last minute.

He saved his comrade’s life, but the newly appointed lieutenant was immediately struck down.

Almost three years after his son’s death, Conor’s father said he was glad that education reform and rollover investigations were finally getting serious attention. He said there was bipartisan support for many of the rollover laws in the NDAA and said he was excited to see them passed this year.

“There are several powerful new measures to accompany this,” wrote Michael McDowell on Facebook. “Conor was really honored.”

A Citadel graduate died while training 6 months ago.  Now the government is investigating why.

Reach Thomas Novell at 843-937-5713. Follow him @TomNovelly on Twitter.


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