Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Lessons from the Army's Worst Modern-Day Tragedy

Ten years ago, Chile's Army suffered is worst peacetime disaster. An infantry unit was ordered to march into the Andes as part of a training exercise, just as a blizzard moved into the area. More than halfway to their destination (a mountain shelter), the wind and snow started taking soldiers' lives. Of 77 that started the march, 45 died. The rest managed to reach the shelter and were rescued. None of the 77 had the clothing necessary to withstand the -35 degree chill around the Antuco volcano. The men of the 17th Reinforced Regiment also couldn't get their radios, GPS and other equipment to work in the freezing cold. The May 18, 2005 tragedy sparked a crisis in the Army, one that led to several organizational changes. The Army created its first mountain division and a mountain search and rescue team. It acquired cold-weather gear, some of which is now used for disaster aid. Its doctrine now asks officers to consider the consequence of orders rather than follow them in strict terms. Perhaps most important, a project was launched to equip every unit on the field with adequate radio equipment. Some Army officers were convicted for their role in the deadly march. The unit's commander was sentenced to five years in prison, but was released after three years and eight months. Four others received shorter sentences. Of the Antuco survivors, 22 continue serving in the Army.

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