Ohio National Guard News

Hitting the road: Deploying Soldiers learn to operate MRAP vehicles for optimal safety while overseas

Story and photos by Sgt. Kimberly Lamb, 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs

Pvt. Lisa P. Holmes, a member of Company A, 237th Support Battalion, 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Ohio Army National Guard and a Cleveland native, performs preventative maintenance checks and services Sept. 23, 2011, on her Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicle during training. The brigade is deploying to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Soldiers of the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team are ready to roll out in a convoy of Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles during training at Camp Shelby.

CAMP SHELBY JOINT FORCES TRAINING CENTER, Miss. — Their purpose: survive an improvised explosive device attack or ambush. Their effectiveness: nearly a 90 percent decrease in roadside bomb attack fatalities. What are these beastly machines? Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles.

Soldiers of the Ohio Army National Guard's 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team recently trained on the MRAP vehicles as part of their pre-deployment requirements.

The five-day course, which includes classroom instruction, simulated driving and real-world driving, gives Soldiers basic knowledge of the vehicle and basic driving techniques.

Sgt. 1st Class Telly T. Allen, MRAP instructor assigned to the 1st Battalion, 305th Regiment, 158th Infantry Brigade, said that days one and two consist of familiarization and performance of preventative maintenance checks and services (PMCS) of the tactical vehicles. Days three through five include a driving simulator, and a daytime and nighttime driving course with actual vehicles.

During the daytime driving course, generally referred to as the "unusual conditions" course by the instructors, students drive on a dirt road with dust, curves and limited visibility, Allen said. Soldiers are taught how to keep their distance from the vehicle in front of them, as well as how to maneuver up and down hills and around corners.

"A lot of students haven't driven anything bigger than a Hummer," Allen stated. "These are the latest and greatest vehicles being used in theater."

The first developments of up-armored vehicles began in the 1970s in South Africa as a counter to land mine threats.

The design, led by the Marine Corps, is in use now by the Army, Navy, Air Force and U.S. Special Operations Forces.

The family of vehicles incorporates armor plating and a "V"-shaped hull intended to withstand mines and improvised explosive devices.

Protecting thousands of U.S. service members, MRAPs are made of armored steel that only two U.S. factories are qualified to produce for the Defense Department.

MRAPs weigh between 7 and 22.5 tons, carry 7-12 passengers and are categorized by their weight class and size.

Category I, the Mine-Resistant Utility Vehicle, is designed for urban operations as it is smaller, lighter and more maneuverable than the other categories. Category II, the Joint Explosive Ordnance Disposal Rapid Response Vehicle, is designed for convoy missions, troop transport, explosive ordnance disposal and combat engineering. Category III vehicles are dedicated to mine and IED clearing.

Pfc. Caitlyn C. Waites of Headquarters, 37th IBCT, said she thought the MRAPs were harder to maneuver than a Humvee.

"The weight distribution has 70 percent in the front and 30 percent in the back, so you have to be very mindful of your speed and adjust a lot more dramatically based on what kind of surface you are driving on," Waites said.

During the MRAP course, Soldiers are given an opportunity to drive all four of the Category I MRAPs that are at Camp Shelby — the MaxxPro, M-ATV, RG33 and Caiman.

Other than the tactical vehicle's large size and maneuverability issues, an additional challenge students seem to face is its limited visibility.

"There are a lot of blind spots because of the up-armor," Allen said. "The TC (truck commander) and gunner play a big role."

Despite the visibility issues, Allen said they never had an injury or accident during training.