Battle Buddies

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- While traveling east along Interstate 10 outside of Tallahassee, Florida, Pvt. Samuel Najac and Pvt. Yanixa Hayes' expectations of a relaxing, non-eventful Holiday Block Leave came to an abrupt halt. In the early afternoon of Dec. 20, the driver of a 2000 Toyota lost control of the vehicle while traveling westbound on I-10.

The vehicle crossed two lanes of traffic, careened into the 50 yard grass median, and exited the other side, striking Pvt. Najac's 2006 Subaru GTI.

Private Najac managed to free himself from inside the vehicle, but immediately lost consciousness after exiting it. Moments later, he regained consciousness only to realize that Pvt. Hayes remained trapped under the steering column inside the burning vehicle. With a sudden adrenaline rush, the injured Pvt. Najac reentered the vehicle, and with his bare hands, ripped the dash board out in order to save the life of Pvt. Hayes, his Battle Buddy.

Every Friday military installations around the country, commanders remind their Soldiers to stay safe, and always travel with a buddy. The exact phrase used will vary depending on the service: Battle Buddies for the Army, Shipmates for the Navy, and Wingmen for the Air Force.

Regardless, the overall theme remains the same; servicemembers should travel in groups of two or more. This guidance follows the old Aristotelian adage "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," and has been used in the military for decades.

During World War II, the practice was known as having a "foxhole buddy." This name fits well since two people are needed in order to cover all sectors and to provide interlocking fields of fire.

Naturally the expression eventually acquired a deeper meaning, and is used in memoirs by veterans to describe their close friends. In today's combat environment, the term is used to describe the smallest combat unit which can be considered combat effective.

Doctrinally, Battle Buddy teams can be positioned away from the rest of the team to provide security on a flank or rear. The team is usually arranged by having both Soldiers lie facing opposite directions with feet touching or interlocked. This allows Soldiers to cover each other and to silently alert each other of potential danger.

During a firefight, Battle Buddies support each other by having a member provide covering fire while the other moves. Similar mutual support systems can be found in naval tactics, aircraft formations, and even in firefighting.

All servicemembers first encounter the buddy system during initial or basic training. In this environment, the system is used to provide new recruits with the security and solace that can only come from someone who shares their circumstances.

Battle Buddy teams are usually selected to compliment strengths and weaknesses, provide a valuable experience in team building, and teach military personnel to rely on one another during difficult situations.

Additionally, the system protects service members since injuries or mental health problems, which a Soldier may hide from his or her training cadre, can be easily spotted by a Battle Buddy. By helping each other, the team is less likely to miss a formation, forget an inspection item, or miss a suspense.

The Battle Buddy system goes beyond the battle ground and the training environment. While off duty, Soldiers are encouraged to always go with a Battle Buddy when leaving the installation.

Most commonly, servicemembers are encouraged to have Battle Buddies in dubious situations such as bars, parties or large events. In reality, no servicemember should ever be alone. Even in everyday life, being near a Battle Buddy has its advantages: just ask Pvt. Hayes.

The uncommon valor demonstrated by Pvt. Najac on Dec. 20 epitomizes the characteristics and definition of a true Battle Buddy and proves that "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."