TAJI, Iraq - Decked out in pope glass, camo netting and possibly an ice chest or two, the vehicle begins to resemble a parade float. But Soldiers who depend on the Stryker each day at Camp Taji, Iraq, a base camp north of Baghdad, are fond of their "trucks" that bring a new level of versatility and mobility to the battlefield.

Soldiers of one 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team unit also praise the eight-wheeled, all-wheel-drive Stryker for its high-tech communications package and its safety features. First Lt. Eric Tomlinson of Warminster, Pa., leader of 1st Platoon, A Troop, 2nd Squadron, 104th Cavalry Regiment, said he appreciates the armor package of the Stryker.

"It's a lot more robust than what you've got in a humvee," Tomlinson said. "And the other thing that's great about it is the flexibility of being able to have more dismounts in a concentrated vehicle platform."

The Stryker, produced by General Dynamics Land Systems, comes in 10 variants. The infantry carrier variant can shuttle a full squad of seven Soldiers, in addition to a vehicle commander, driver and gunner. The vehicles feature fire-suppression systems and operators can adjust tire pressure to terrain.

The 56th Brigade's units have tailored the air-conditioned passenger area of their vehicles to meet their needs. Baggage or bulky gear can be stowed on the roof or secured to the sides of the Stryker. Ice chests are typically found lashed to an inside shelf while additional cases of bottled water and foodstuffs are stored in various nooks and crannies. Padded bench seats add to the comfort factor.

"It's great in the sense that what you need you can bring it with you, whether it's more Soldiers, more equipment or more supplies," Tomlinson said.

Tomlinson served as a platoon sergeant with the 2nd Sqdn., 104th Cav. Regt. when it was a humvee-mounted force. He witnessed the transition to a Stryker force as he transitioned to the officer corps and moved into the job of platoon leader. Tomlinson said he "couldn't be happier" working with a Stryker unit, saying every vehicle has its plusses and minuses.

He said the Stryker offers more room than the humvee and better mobility than the military's Mine Resistant Ambush Protected family of vehicles. He said his platoon, as a tactical area command (TAC) attached to the headquarters troop, often has to roll out on missions across the brigade area of operations with little advance notice. He said the versatility of the Stryker matches the flexibility of his Soldiers.

Sgt. Charles Chiao of Mahonoy City, Pa., a First Platoon Stryker vehicle commander, trained on the Stryker vehicle for two years prior to the mobilization and deployment of the 56th SBCT in September 2009. He said he "has faith in the Stryker" and agreed that Soldiers don't have to use a "stock out of the box" vehicle. Chiao said the vehicles can be configured for various missions by moving or adding storage shelves. Additionally, Soldiers can mount the M2 .50-caliber machine gun, 240B machine gun or MK19 grenade launcher as the infantry carrier variant's main armament. Hatches in the vehicle allow for "air guards" to pull security in all directions, from behind the safety of the bulletproof pope glass.

Chiao said one of the keys to success has been for the platoon's Soldiers to realize the limitations of their vehicles and not put themselves in dangerous situations.

"When we were driving back at the Gap [Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa.] we put the Stryker through its paces. We purposely went out and tried to get it stuck. We couldn't really do it," he said.

"If you have a good driver, you're going to have a really good Stryker," Chiao said. "There are really not a lot of places we can't go and we get there quietly."

The so-called "bird cage" slat armor adds three feet of width to the roughly 18-ton vehicles, something drivers have to remember when navigating the streets of the Taji region.

"You have to get used to the size," Spc. Carson Mensinger of Berwick, Pa., a First Platoon driver, said. "You get in a mindset of how wide you are going down the road and of how powerful the vehicle is."

Stryker drivers look through three periscopes of glass. Their visibility is limited to about a 90-degree field of view.

"We depend a lot on the VCs [vehicle commanders] to be our eyes where we can't see," Mensinger said.

Mensinger said the deployment is "a lot calmer" than he imagined. He said as a driver he is in one of the most protected places in the vehicle.

"We know the Stryker can handle a lot," Mensinger said. "I have tons of confidence in the vehicle."

Tomlinson said the first time his platoon came into contact with the enemy FM radio communications were not available. The platoon was able to use the onboard FBCB2 graphics communication system.

"It was good to know that I was able to communicate with the people who I needed to come and to support me," Tomlinson said. "I don't think you ever feel 100 percent safe. I certainly feel safer in this vehicle than probably just about any other vehicle."

Mensinger explained that the Stryker can traverse two feet-wide ditches and climb a vertical barrier one-foot in height. He said thanks to the vehicle's suspension system drivers and passengers have a smooth ride.

"It can be fun. It's like monster truckin' just not as high up off the ground," Mensinger said.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16