The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Lightning strike kills one soldier, injures nine at Georgia base

The newly unveiled sign at the site of the new Cyber School at Fort Gordon, Ga. (Michael Holahan/AP)
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One soldier was killed and nine service members were injured in a lightning strike at a military base in Georgia on Wednesday, a base spokeswoman said.

The incident occurred about 11:10 a.m., when the service members were conducting a field training exercise, said Anne Bowman, a public affairs officer for Fort Gordon. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the troops were directly struck by lightning or if a nearby generator was struck, she said, adding that there were other possibilities. Weather data suggests it was probably raining or cloudy at the time.

The personnel were treated at Eisenhower Army Medical Center, where one of the soldiers later died. The medical center declined to comment. The Army later identified 41-year-old Sgt. 1st Class Michael D. Clark as the deceased soldier. Clark served for 22 years and was deployed four times to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army said in a statement.

One of the injured service members has been released after treatment, while the eight other injured soldiers are in good condition, it added.

“Sgt. 1st [Class] Clark was a loving husband, father, and a Patriot who deeply loved our country. His leadership, knowledge, experience, and love for his fellow Soldiers was immeasurable,” Maj. Stephen W. Rhinehart, the commander of Clark’s unit, the 933rd Forward Resuscitative Surgical Company, said in a statement.

Fort Gordon is located about 10 miles west of downtown Augusta, Ga., near the border with South Carolina. It largely houses Army units and hosts some 80,000 people, including 16,000 service members.

The military has lightning safety precautions in place. For instance, soldiers may be asked to remove tactical gear, to leave weapons on the ground and to maintain distances of up to 15 feet from each other. Army manuals advise soldiers to remove objects that may “produce a metallic upward projection, such as a radio or rifle,” and to disperse to minimize the chances of multiple injuries from a strike.

Still, the risk of lightning injury remains. In August 2015, the Army Ranger School was conducting the swamp phase of its training in Florida, with lightning lockdown procedures in place. But when a bolt struck a tree, spreading electrical current throughout the wooded area, dozens of soldiers were injured, with 18 losing consciousness, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Military Medicine.

Don’t rely on folklore for lightning safety

The odds of getting struck by lightning in any given year are less than 1 in 1 million in the United States, and the vast majority of people survive such strikes. Many service members spend more time outdoors than the general public, and lightning fatalities are more common in the Southeastern United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Florida, which the CDC calls America’s “lightning capital,” logged 79 strike-related deaths in the 2006-2021 period. Georgia has one of the highest lightning fatality rates in the country, with 16 deaths during that time. July is the most dangerous month for lightning strikes in the United States.

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