THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Friday, February 17, 1995 TAG: 9502170571 SECTION: FRONT PAGE: A1 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: FROM STAFF & WIRE REPORTS DATELINE: MIAMI LENGTH: Long : 112 lines
Four U.S. Army Rangers in the final days of grueling training died from exposure after emerging from the chilly, chest-high waters of a north Florida swamp where they were engaged in a bridge-building exercise, the Army said Thursday.
The deaths late Wednesday - on the grounds of Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle - stunned members of the elite Ranger corps and prompted officials to halt the training until Army investigators can determine what happened.
``It's a shock. No one likes to see something like this occur,'' said Al Blanchard, a retired Army colonel serving as a military spokesman at Fort Benning, Ga., where the dead men were based. ``We are a tight-knit community, and we will pull together and take care of our own.''
The dead soldiers were identified as Capt. Milton Palmer, 27, of Fishers, Ind.; 2nd Lt. Curt G. Sansoucie, 23, of Rochester, N.H.; 2nd Lt. Spencer D. Dodge, 25, of Stanley, N.Y.; and Sgt. Norman Tillman, 28, of Fort Bragg, N.C.
Four Rangers remained hospitalized late Thursday, one in stable condition and three in good condition, the Army said. Their names were not released.
The victims were among 102 enlisted men and officers who had volunteered for a demanding eight-week course in combat techniques and all-terrain survival, said an Army spokeswoman. Women are not admitted to Ranger training, she said.
The men, who reportedly had been in the field since Saturday, were patrolling in the hardwood swamps on the huge 724-square-mile military reservation.
``Once they disembarked from the boats, they discovered the water was significantly higher than they had anticipated,'' Lt. Col. Joseph Spenneberg, an executive officer with the Ranger Training Brigade said at a news conference at Fort Benning.
Streams expected to be knee-deep were often chest-deep, and in some cases, over the soldiers' heads. The soldiers had to string ropes to cross the streams, making the training more grueling than planned. The instructors ``have years of experience, and in their estimation they thought it was safe to continue,'' Spenneberg said.
About 5:30 p.m., one of the four instructors assigned to each 34-member platoon noticed that one man who had been in the water was showing signs of hypothermia, a severe loss of body heat. By the time a helicopter arrived to evacuate him, several others began to show symptoms, Blanchard said.
Two of the men were flown out of the swamp. But low clouds and fog prevented air rescue of the other victims, most of whom either walked or were carried to a point where they could be picked up by ambulance, Blanchard said.
Seven men were taken to a base clinic, where three died Wednesday. The body of an eighth man was found early Thursday.
The water temperature was 52 degrees, just above the 50-degree threshold set in 1977 after two soldiers died from hypothermia during Ranger training, said Col. Galen Jackman, commander of the Ranger Training Brigade.
``Ranger training is physically and mentally demanding,'' said Blanchard, a former Ranger. ``They are on short rations, and not a lot of sleep.
``It's not unusual for the individual to keep going on sheer guts.''
In earlier phases of the Ranger course, volunteers trained in the woods at Fort Benning, in desert conditions at Fort Bliss, Texas, and in mountains near Dahlonega, Ga.
Blanchard suggested that recent heavy rains in the area may have caused water in the swamp to be deeper and colder than normal. ``When a person is submerged in water, over time hypothermia will set in,'' he said.
Here in Hampton, the training accident grabbed the immediate attention of officials with the Army Training and Doctrine Command.
``We've been tied to it since early this morning,'' said TRADOC spokesman Bill Noxon at Fort Monroe, the command's headquarters. Officials were in immediate contact with those at Fort Benning and at Eglin, where the accident occurred.
It was not immediately known whether TRADOC would be involved in an investigation, said Noxon. An investigation already has begun at Fort Benning.
``I am sure sooner or later we will be,'' he said. ``An incident like this is unfortunate, and we certainly want to find out everything we can.''
TRADOC, responsible for training all Army soldiers, oversees the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, where the soldiers were assigned.
Known as the Ranger Training Brigade, it is about 12 miles from the main post at Fort Benning and operates various courses, all of them grueling, for officers and enlisted. MEMO: Staff writer Jack Dorsey contributed to this report.
The deaths occurred during a leadership training course that is the
most demanding offered by the elite Army Rangers. Highlights:
Schedule: 19.6 hours of training per day
Seven days a week
65 consecutive days, including processing
Phase one: Woods phase, 17 days at Fort Benning, Ga.
Phase two: Mountain phase, 16 days near Dahlonega, Ga.
Phase three: Swamp phase, 16 days at Camp James E. Rudder near Eglin
Air Force Base, Fla.
Phase four: Desert phase, 14 days at Dugway, Utah.
Source: Army Training and Doctrine Command
KEYWORDS: ACCIDENT MILITARY FATALITIES ACCIDENT
GENERAL HYPOTHERMIA U.S. ARMY by CNB