Officers, Instructors Suspended Pending Investigation of Ranger Deaths
FORT BENNING, Ga. (AP) _ Two officers and three instructors have been suspended until the Army concludes its investigation into the deaths of four Ranger trainees.
The soldiers died of exposure last month in the swamps of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. They had spent up to eight hours in chest-deep, 52-degree water during the last phase of their grueling nine-week training course, which is meant to simulate war.
Maj. Gen. John. W. Hendrix, Fort Benning’s commanding officer, suspended the officers and instructors with pay Tuesday because training for the next Ranger class resumed in Florida that day, said Sgt. Caejar Cox, a spokesman for Fort Benning.
``The general thought it was a prudent thing to do,″ Cox said. ``It’s not punitive and will continue until results of the investigation are made public.″
Officials at Fort Benning, headquarters of the Ranger Training Battalion, had said that Ranger river training would be halted until the investigation was completed. Cox said he did not know if the class that began Tuesday would include water training.
Suspended were the battalion commander, a company commander and three noncommissioned officers who were instructors assigned to the 6th Ranger Battalion at Camp James E. Rudder, Fla. Their names could not be released under Army privacy regulations, Cox said.
Hendrix can either reinstate the officers and instructors or relieve them of their duties.
Any details regarding involvement of any other officers or instructors will not be released until the investigation is completed, Cox said.
The dead soldiers were among eight stricken with hypothermia, which is caused by extreme loss of body heat and leads to fatigue, drowsiness and disorientation. The soldiers were in waters only 2 degrees warmer than the safety limit.
Capt. Milton Palmer, 27, died after being evacuated by helicopter. Another trainee evacuated with him survived.
Heavy fog prevented a helicopter rescue of 2nd Lt. Curt G. Sansoucie, 23, and Sgt. Norman Tillman, 28. They died after waiting 4 1/2 hours to be evacuated.
Second Lt. Spencer D. Dodge, 25, became separated from his fellow soldiers that night and his body was found the next morning.