They weigh roughly 20 tons each and measure more than 13 feet tall — but last week was the first time many Soldiers in 63rd Engineer Company (Horizontal) had encountered a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle.
Training on MRAPs began Sept. 23 and will last through Oct. 14. The training is part of the final weeks of preparation for the unit, which is slated to deploy to Afghanistan later this year.
“Delays are always a struggle for companies deploying overseas,” said 1st Lt. Russell Gordon, logistics officer for the company. “This last August, we were scheduled to depart. In order to keep up morale, we did some amazing things — we trained.”
What makes MRAP training exceptional is the availability of the vehicles, thanks to a loan from Fort Stewart, Ga., he said.
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“It’s not a standard piece of equipment here in the United States,” Gordon said. “It is designed to withstand an IED blast, meaning that the front end could be blown off, the back end could get blown off, and the hull is shaped in such a way that it deflects the blast away from the Soldiers.”
Capt. James Rogers, company commander, said more than half of the Soldiers in the company had never worked with an MRAP before.
“The concept is to get the Soldiers out of the mindset of riding in a Humvee and getting them more familiar with riding in a vehicle of this size and magnitude,” he said. “Taking a turn, for example, may require you to slow down as opposed to speeding into a turn because of the weight distribution of the vehicle.”
There are several series of MRAPs available, but the models the engineers are working with are earlier versions.
That’s by design, Rogers said, since learning on a more basic model will help prepare Soldiers for anything they may encounter overseas.
The MRAP training includes general vehicle familiarization, driving, maintenance checks, a live fire, procedure rehearsals and mission-based scenarios.
Pvt. Tyler Baker, who first climbed into an MRAP gunner’s hatch Sept. 27, said the vehicle was fairly easy to work with.
“I’m a gunner,” he said. “For me, it’s familiarization. As much time as I can get up there, I feel more comfortable before we deploy. It helps me feel like I know what my duty is, what I’m going to be doing personally. I grasped the concept of being a gunner when I go over there, but now I completely understand what I’m going to be doing. This has been a great experience.”
Sgt. Joshua Permenter, a squad leader for 2nd Platoon, worked with MRAPs during a previous deployment to Iraq.
“When I first got down there, we were actually still in the Humvees,” he said. “When we finally upgraded to the (MRAPs), it added a lot more protection, more movement, stability. You’re able to take more troops out on mission. They’re actually more intimidating when on the road — size alone — and a whole lot more maneuverable. It’s a 100 percent turnaround on the aspect of mission capabilities, just the elevation for the gunner on what he can see ... plus dismount abilities. With the big gate in the back, you can get all four people out at once instead of having the options of who’s getting out on what side.”
Permenter said only one Soldier in his squad had worked with an MRAP before, but so far everyone’s reaction to the vehicle has been positive.
1st Lt. Charles McDonald, platoon leader for 2nd Platoon, said the MRAP training will make things go that much smoother overseas.
“If you’re trying to visualize what it’s like to be in one of these and what your job is, it’s almost impossible,” he said. “You have to see it firsthand to see how it works — even something as simple as getting in and out of the vehicle with four people. It takes practice to move people quickly in and out of a vehicle with a limited space. We have to learn how to properly store our weapons. We have to learn how to get in and out of a gunner’s hatch. Familiarity with what we’re doing breeds confidence, and confidence pays out dividends on a mission.”