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Stopping preventable military deaths

Conor McDowel, who died in a preventable military accident, and fiance Kathleen Bourque in September 2018.
Conor McDowel, who died in a preventable military accident, and fiance Kathleen Bourque in September 2018. (Winston Crosby / Handout)

Maryland resident Marine 1st Lt. H. Conor McDowell, 24, was killed in a preventable military accident while on maneuvers at Camp Pendleton, San Diego, CA almost six months ago on May 9 (“After military vehicle accident kills Marine from Maryland, love story turns into tragedy," June 9).

Maryland’s Democratic Congressional delegation, some of them committee chairs and vice chairs, have been instrumental in helping us seek urgent remedies to reduce the high numbers of needless military deaths in training accidents which are now happening month after month on U.S. territory.

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Far more young men and women are dying in land vehicle “rollovers” in this country now, than in combat abroad. Every month we read of deaths in Bradley Fighting Vehicles, Light Armored Vehicles, Humvees, 5/7/10 ton trucks and MRZR “dune buggies,” all top heavy and prone to tip over and kill or seriously maim their occupants.

We have successfully lobbied for a Government Accountability Office independent inquiry, thanks to consistent support from the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat; Rep. Anthony Brown, a Prince George’s Democrat; Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger a Baltimore County Democrat and Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen.

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A GAO report is a serious mechanism that must be requested by members of Congress, and the GAO has to prioritize many Congressional demands; accept some and reject others. The GAO quickly agreed to begin a forensic, expert-driven investigation lasting up to a year into this lethal crisis. They will review accident records from the past 10 years and report to the Congress and the public, and may later hold Congressional hearings with witnesses from the Pentagon, experts and grieving families like ours.

We have worked closely with House Armed Services Sub-Committee John Garamendi, a Democrat from California, to seek interim safety measures from the Department of Defense while the GAO conducts its full inquiry. The GAO investigators will travel to bases such as Camp Pendleton to interview enlisted men and women particularly, not just NCOs and officers on how to improve safety — and without lowering our warriors readiness or preparedness.

The positive timely Congressional follow up — especially from our Maryland representatives — is an example of elected public servants responding diligently to the needs of grieving military families, and doing so with urgency and tact. We are most grateful that, in the midst of much political division in our country, we have won modest bipartisan support for action now.

We are also grateful for the role of serious mainstream media such as The Baltimore Sun in covering this critical problem and playing a major part in buttressing citizen involvement in our democracy.

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Michael H.C. McDowell, Susan M. Flanigan, Kathleen Isobel Bourque

The writers are the parents and fiancee of the late Conor McDowell.

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