Recent deaths during initial training across the services is the subject of a new Defense Department inspector general project, according to a Dec. 4 memo.
What began as an evaluation of medical resources at basic training, announced Nov. 18, has evolved into a look at medical protocols and their relation to deaths among basic trainees.
"The reannounced objective is to ‘determine the effectiveness of medical protocols at the recruit training centers in the DoD,’ " the memo said.
Every year, a handful of recruits die at initial military training ― some in training accidents, some of illness and others of underlying medical issues. The study will cover all deaths from January 2015 through December 2019.
There is not a specific number of deaths the IG is working from, spokeswoman Dwrena Allen told Military Times, but the project will cover all deaths at recruit training, beyond those with solely medical causes.
“We will conduct site visits to recruit training centers in the DoD,” according to the original Nov. 18 memo. “We will also interview personnel from the education and training commands, the medical departments of the military services, the Defense Health Agency, and the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command.”
In 2019, several cases rocked training commands in different services.
In January, an outbreak of Group A strep at Fort Benning, Georgia, claimed one life and threatened hundreds of others, as dozens were diagnosed with infections ranging from strep throat to flesh-eating bacteria.
A command investigation into the outbreak suggested discipline or further training for some medical personnel, one of whom did not immediately inform Pfc. Dez del Barba’s chain of command of a positive strep test. The following day, he collapsed in his barracks room, and is still recovering from a leg amputation because of the flesh-eating disease he had been fighting for weeks.
Then, in February and April, two seaman recruits at Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois, died during physical fitness tests. Autopsies attributed the deaths to rhabdomyolysis and irregular heartbeat, respectively.
A “medical emergency” also claimed the life of an Army trainee at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, in September.
The study also follows a bombshell command investigation that found Pvt. Patrick Vega, who died 11 days into boot camp at Marine Recruit Depot San Diego, had been delirious, talking in his sleep, vomiting and complaining of chills in the days leading up to his death.
“The Marine Corps failed my son, and failed me completely,” Manny Vega, his father, told Marine Corps Times in January.
His cause of death was listed as cardiac arrest, but his family declined an autopsy, so a more precise explanation was never uncovered.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.