Everyone knows there are risks to joining the Army, but there are the dangers that everyone knows about thanks to movies, and then there are the dangers that soldiers learn about during their time in service.
Most movies make it look like the only way to die is in combat. But movies like “Jarhead” and “Starship Troopers” remind everyone that there are a lot of under appreciated ways to die in the military, like being killed by your own artillery or friendly fire from a machine gunner.
Here are five relatively unknown ways to get your ticket punched in the Army
1. It’s not “Danger close” until it has a 0.1 percent chance of incapacitating you
“Danger close” is one of those military terms that pops up in movies from time to time. It’s usually used correctly with artillery observers yelling it on the radio when they need bombs or artillery.
What the movie doesn’t tell you is that the term “danger close” refers to fire missions where the rounds have a 0.1 percent chance of incapacitating or killing friendly troops. That may not sound like much, but the risk estimate distance, or RED, for calculating danger close is on a per round basis. Which means you’re rolling those 1 in 1,000 dice every time a round is fired.
Danger close fires are still often a good idea since they’re only used when a U.S. position is about to be overwhelmed, but they’re super dangerous. If the artillery line is asked to fire a total of 150 rounds in a danger close situation, then they have an 8.6 percent chance of hitting an American even if they do everything perfectly.
Any mistake increases the risk.
2. Human chemical detectors
In the unlikely event of a chemical or biological attack, all members of the military don protective masks and suits and chemical soldiers track how the enemy agents break down until it’s safe. But someone has to be the first to take off their mask.
This moment sucks especially hard for the junior-most member of the unit since they’re usually the one who has to take their mask off first. So, good luck with that, new enlistees.
3. Every weapon malfunctions and malfunctions can kill you
The Army works hard to purchase and deploy effective and dependable weapons, but every weapon has a chance to fail even when it’s properly maintained. While soldiers usually act in training like helicopters only fall when shot at and weapons always fire until they overheat, that simply isn’t the case.
Take this artillery crew in Afghanistan that got a horrible surprise when their howitzer’s recoil mechanism gave out during a fire mission, leaving them to manually lower and raise the gun between shots. And that’s not even getting into the malfunctions that can kill soldiers outright, like when the breach or tube on a weapon gives out and it suddenly explodes when fired.
4. Everyone with a radio is a target
American soldiers are trained to target enemy combatants with radios in an attempt to shutdown the adversary’s command and control networks. Unfortunately, the enemy has figured this out too and uses the same tactics.
What that means for every platoon leader and sergeant, every radio telephone operator, and every artillery observer is that their antenna is a huge target painted on their backs.
5. Even in training, the weakest link can get you killed
But the scariest thing about being in the Army is when you realize that you’re life depends on everyone around you, and some of those guys are pretty stupid. In combat, these guys can get you killed by not being good at their jobs, but there are risks in training as well.
Artillery crews can miscalculate and hit friendly troops, helicopter pilots can crash, troops who have negligent discharges can send rounds anywhere. Obviously, sexier training is more dangerous. Shoot houses with live ammo and artillery ranges are more dangerous than practicing to escape a rolled over vehicle.