Monday, July 19, 2010

My first scar from Afghanistan

Almost four weeks ago our team was issued brand new up-armored vehicles, called MATVs. It took a couple days to put them together, and get them to a road and combat ready situation. While assembling 'The Big Lebowski' as my team and I call my vehicle, I cut my finger installing some wire mesh which has healed and turned into a permanent scar.
It was an exciting moment to be receiving some new vehicles to replace, for lack of a better word coming to mind, our old jalopies. Our previous vehicles were some of first generation of up armored Humvees M1114s that the Army stated producing when blowing up vehicles became the in vogue thing for insurgents. Driving in the 1114s was better than driving a old un-armored Humvee, however it was by no means comfortable. Due to the IED threat adding several thousand pounds of armor to the old Humvees became a workable solution to a bad problem. Unfortunately the Humvee was not originally designed to have several thousand pounds of weight added, which has ended up casing a lot of strain on the first generation of Humvees. Our old Humvees, which we fortunately had to endure for only a month compared to our previous teams, were really hurting vehicles. To get up hills we found we occasionally had to get a running start at them. The transmissions were found would occasionally slip, or miss a gear. Most uncomfortable of all though was that on some of the vehicles the air conditioning would not work. Driving or riding in the vehicle was like sitting in hot-box from "Cool Hand Luck". With the temperatures outside, plus adding in all the individual body armor that we wear made for a miserable experience.
Our relief from these vehicles came when we were issued our new MATVs, which are basically smaller versions of MRAPs which made the news a couple years ago as they debuted throughout all of Iraq, and parts of Afghanistan. The MATV depending on the weapons configuration carries only four or five soldiers including the driver, is much lighter than the different MRAPs and as a result is more maneuverable. While I have never driven or ridden in a MRAPs I have been told that the problems that they found with them is that they are so big, that it was almost impossible to take them off road. Additionally because Iraq and Afghanistan are third world countries their road and building construction are not to the same western standards, the height of the MRAPs combined with our radio antennas would knock down different power lines or other low hanging items.
Make no mistakes though, the MATV is not a small vehicle. Painted on the sides shows that our Gross Vehicle Weight is well over 26,000 lbs. Trying to park the vehicle is next to impossible without one or two persons outside helping the driver with his many blind spots. The tires on our vehicles seem as though they could easily fit on a monster truck. The advantage though is that is it raises the floor of our vehicles higher off the ground, and with the addition the sloped armor we are hopefully more protected from buried and roadside bombs.
The weapons configurations also give us added protection. Often when up-armored Humvees would get hit by a roadside bomb the vehicle would survive, unfortunately it would get flipped over in the blast then crush and kill the gunner on the top of the vehicle. More than half of the vehicles that we were issued have Common Remotely Operated Weapons Systems, CROWS, bringing the gunner protected inside the vehicle.
I am told that the CROWS has some of the same internal hardware that the weapons systems of the M1A1 Abrams tanks has. The CROWS system allows us the ability to mount different weapons to our vehicle depending on the situation or mission that we are on.
One of the big pluses of this system over the old Humvees that we used to drive is that it has an effective air conditioning system. One problem though, much like the Humvees, is it seems like the designers forgot incorporate the size of the men and women that would be siting in the vehicle. By all accounts I am right in the middle of the bell curve of an average sized man, and wearing just my uniform I fight into the vehicle just fine. However when I put on all my body armor, helmet, magazines of 5.56 rounds, a half dozen grenade projectiles, first aid kit, and other items I now push close to 300 pounds and my chest is almost twice as large. I am one of the averaged sized guys in our small unit, and I have trouble closing my door and sitting comfortably. I feel sorry for the bigger guys, as they have a real fun time just trying to put their seat belts on.
With current technology and funds available I doubt that the Army could design the prefect vehicle for us. It would be great if they could design a vehicle that would protect us from all the different roadside bombs the enemy is using, provide good visibility, a strong defensive/offensive weapons systems, while also being quick and maneuverable, comfortable to ride in. The MATV is not perfect in all areas, however it seems to do a pretty good job, most important though is it will protect those who ride in it.

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