'So ridiculously dangerous': Video of Fort Drum soldiers in shoot house training criticized
A video shared on social media this week shows soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division moving through a building without clearing corners or properly lowering their weapons as others passed in front of them, drawing wide criticism online and prompting a public response from the division's leadership.
The video was recorded a few months ago but recently started circulating online, Command Sergeant Major Mario Terenas said in a video shared to Twitter on Monday.
He confirmed the video involves active-duty soldiers with the 10th Mountain Division, which operates out of Fort Drum, a U.S. Army base in Jefferson County.
"It is 10th Mountain Division. It is our folks, and it really, really hurts to say that," Terenas said. "It is not the standard. It is not how we do business, and it is not acceptable."
What happened in the video?
The training exercise shows several soldiers moving through a "shoot house" and using live ammunition to hit targets as they go from room to room. Throughout the video, there are several instances of flagging, a military term for when soldiers unsafely point the barrel of a firearm at another service member.
John Valiukas, an Army veteran who served for six years before retiring in 2012 after an injury, saw the video on TikTok last Saturday. He thought it was a joke.
"I couldn’t believe my eyes — I had to click on the link to see if it was a joke or not," he said. "There's no way people in the actual Army would be doing what they were doing."
At the beginning of the video, the soldiers aren't properly positioned as they walk toward the door. Being right in front of the door is dangerous, Valiukas said, because if someone was on the other side and heard you, they could shoot through the door.
They're also using live ammunition — as opposed to "Simunition," a non-lethal but still extremely painful kind of ammunition often used for training, Valiukas said. He said he can determine that from the firearm itself, but also by how the targets react to the impact of the bullets.
Using lethal rounds not only calls for extra caution, but also for conservation, which Valiukas said the soldiers in the video failed to do. In a real-life situation, there might not be an opportunity to reload.
But what really caught his attention was what happens next: As the soldiers walk through the first door, the one wearing the camera on his helmet doesn't lower his firearm when they walk in front of him. Others do the same thing as they move through the shoot house from room to room.
Instances of flagging in a situation like that should have called for the whole exercise to stop, Valiukas said. But no one on the catwalk, the walkway overhead from where non-commissioned officers and officers were watching, said a word.
"When his friends go in front of him, he doesn't lower his barrel — meaning he is pointing a weapon at the back of his friends' head that we know has a live round," Valiukas said. "And that is so ridiculously dangerous."
Before being deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, Valiukas said, he was briefly stationed at Fort Drum. He shared the video on Facebook hoping someone within his social network might still have a connection to the base and could alert leadership there.
Thankfully, Valiukas said, the video circulated online, quickly reached the 10th Mountain Division and will now be handled.
Terenas' statement on Twitter seemed to confirm that, too.
"Make no mistake — that is not the 10th Mountain Division standard," Terenas said. "We're running it down to the ground. We fill fix it. I guarantee you, I will fix it."