Widow: Head Wound from Live-Fire Training Killed Fort Stewart Soldier

Army Sgt. Michael T. Trask in an undated photo. (U.S. Army photo)
Army Sgt. Michael T. Trask in an undated photo. (U.S. Army photo)

Sgt. Michael T. Trask died from injuries he suffered last month after a bullet grazed his head during a live-fire training exercise at Fort Stewart in coastal Georgia, his widow told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Angelina Trask of Richmond Hill said her 31-year-old husband -- who served in Iraq and Afghanistan -- suffered severe brain damage from the Dec. 6 incident. The military told her it was an accident, though it is still investigating and has not yet fully explained to her what happened, she said.

Trask is at least the second soldier to be killed during live-fire training exercises at Fort Stewart since 2015. Since June, at least 56 troops have been killed or injured in training incidents or "regular operational maneuvers" across all services, according to an analysis by The Military Times. Those incidents included collisions between Navy destroyers and commercial vessels in the Western Pacific that killed 17 sailors last year.

Angelina Trask wants the military to do whatever it can to prevent another death.

"I just want them to fix the problem," she said, her voice edged with emotion. "I know that every family member of a military person knows this could happen at some point and time, but it shouldn't happen during a training exercise. No one should have to feel like this."

Military officials declined to comment on her account of what happened at Fort Stewart, saying special agents from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command are still investigating the incident.

"Because it is an ongoing investigation, we are not releasing any further information at this time to protect the integrity of the investigative process," Chris Grey, a spokesman for the command, said in a prepared statement.

Grey added in an interview: "We process death scenes with great scrutiny to ensure that we are not only finding out what happened in a certain incident but we are able to report to the Army and to the family and to the unit on what exactly transpired and help prevent it in the future. Our investigations do take some time."

In September, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters the military was studying whether sequestration -- or federal budget cuts -- is playing a role in training accidents and crashes.

"I am not willing to say right now that there's a direct line between sequestration and what has happened," he said. But "we're going to take a very close look at that."

The Defense Department had no immediate comment on the status of that study.

This is not the first time the government has probed training-related deaths. In 1994, the U.S. General Accounting Office issued a report saying the military was "not doing enough to ensure that safety lessons from training-related deaths are learned and implemented." Between fiscal years 1989 and 1992, at least 700 troops died during training activities, including swimming, parachuting and weapons training, according to the report. Federal investigators found the military did not probe all deaths as required after attributing some to natural causes "unrelated to the work environment, even though the deaths occurred during or shortly after physical conditioning training."

Trask is not the first soldier to be killed in a similar manner at Fort Stewart. In December 2015, Cpl. Andrew A. Aimesbury died after he was seriously wounded during a live-fire training exercise there.

At least four other troops have been killed in similar incidents since that year. On Aug. 23, Spc. Matthew R. Turcotte was fatally shot during a live-fire training exercise at Fort Carson in Colorado. In January of last year, Lance Cpl. Austin J. Ruiz was killed and a second Marine was seriously injured during a live-fire training accident at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

In May 2016, Pfc. Victor J. Stanfill died from injuries suffered during a live-fire training exercise at Fort Polk, La. And in October 2015, Spc. Kevin J. Rodriguez was killed during a blank-fire training exercise at Fort Campbell, Ky. The soldier who shot him had at least three rounds of live ammunition in his magazine, The Army Times reported.

The military defended its techniques this week, saying "live-fire drills provide tough, realistic training that ensures our soldiers are prepared for working as a team during the harsh realities of combat."

A Texas native, Trask was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division. His awards included the Afghanistan and Iraq campaign medals, the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Army Commendation Medal. He was funny, handsome and generous, his widow said. Before he died, Trask and other troops were pooling money for a fellow soldier whose family was struggling financially.

"He was very caring, even toward people he didn't even really know," she said. "He always made sure everyone he cared about was OK before himself."

Angelina Trask chuckled as she recalled how they met through a dating app last January. They went on a date the following day and married two months later.

"Sometimes, when you know, you know," she said.

Trask was supposed to deploy to Germany next month. He chose that destination because she had never been to Europe and he wanted her to see it with him. They hoped to have kids, perhaps a boy and a girl.

The military held a moving service for Trask last month at Fort Stewart, she said, and has been generously helping her family since.

"Everyone in his platoon and company has been extremely supportive, everyone down to even their wives," she said. "They put together care packages for me and my family. Everyone has just been so helpful and supportive."

Meanwhile, she is remaining patient while the military probes what happened to her husband.

"I lost my husband, so, of course, I'm frustrated," she said, "but at this point there is really not much I can do but wait."

--This article is written by Jeremy Redmon from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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