FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Army News Service, Feb. 25, 2008) -- As Staff Sgt. Thomas Schwenkler crouched awkwardly on the ceiling of an upside down Humvee last week, he wondered why in the world his door wouldn't open.

"When you are upside down, everything gets turned around and it takes a second to figure it all out," the B Company, 46th Engineer Battalion engineer said. "I kept pushing the door handle down when I should have been pulling it up."

Schwenkler, along with six fellow Bravo Beast Soldiers, got to experience the confusion and disorientation that can come when a Humvee rolls during a Feb. 12 train-the-trainer session on Fort Rucker's newest deployment preparation aid, the Humvee Egress Assistance Trainer.

During the training at Goodhand Simulator Complex, the HEAT, which features the body of an M1114 up-armored Humvee mounted on an axle, flipped and twisted the Soldiers like some sort of Army-inspired amusement park ride.

But, for this team of trainers, Soldiers who will soon use the HEAT simulator to show fellow Soldiers how to escape what could potentially become a several thousand-pound prison, the Humvee egress trainer was far from an amusement park ride. This training was serious business - deadly serious.

"Next to Improvised Explosive Devices, Humvee rollovers are the second most deadly thing that can happen to Soldiers in theater," said Sean Sparks, chief of Fort Rucker's Training Aids, Devices, Simulators and Simulations Branch.

The HEAT gets rolling

Since 2005, there have been 34 Humvee Class A rollovers, accidents that have either resulted in property damage totaling $1,000,000 or more, permanent total disability or a fatality, according to Fort Rucker's Senior HEAT instructor William Peyregne. Prior to 2005, the Humvee was only involved in 30 Class A rollovers in its 18-year existence.

"As the vehicle aged, more equipment and more armor was added to it," Peyregne, a retired military police officer, said. "As the (Humvee) changed, we really didn't do anything to train our Soldiers to deal with it."

Until recently, that is.

The need for a simulator to train Soldiers how to escape an upside-down vehicle in the same way Dunker training instructs aviation Soldiers how to escape an aircraft ditched in the water was first identified in late 2003 by then U.S. Army Forces Commander Gen. Larry Ellis. A Dec. 8, 2003, Stryker rollover accident that killed three Soldiers prompted the general to initiate the creation of a land-based egress trainer.

The first HEAT device, which included the body of an actual M1114 up-armored Humvee lined with foam rubber and mounted on an axle that allowed it to roll a full 360 degrees, was fielded in September 2005 and the device was delivered to Iraq in June 2006.

Soon, the importance of the simulated rollover training became apparent to Department of Defense officials and, in September 2007, DoD leaders issued a directive requiring that all Soldiers scheduled to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan participate in Humvee egress training.

Today, Fort Rucker's $150,000 HEAT device is one of 53 located at installations and forward operating bases around the globe.

Deployment training HEATs up at Fort Rucker

Engineer Sgt. Mario Haywood is no stranger to rollover training. In the past, to prepare for his previous two Iraq deployments, Haywood would join his fellow Soldiers to "talk through" a rollover situation. In chairs set up to mimic Humvee seats, Haywood and his team would discuss how they would get out should their vehicle flip.

"That was like the crawl phase of rollover training," he said. "With the HEAT, we have jumped to the run phase."

Prior to actually buckling themselves into the HEAT last week, Haywood and his fellow students in the train-the-trainer class discussed at length reasons a Humvee might flip and how they can avoid the situation entirely.

After identifying reasons a Humvee might roll, how they can avoid a rollover and what each crewmember should do following a rollover, it was time for the train-the-trainer students to try out the HEAT during four standard battle drills.

The first drill involved shifting the Humvee to a "critical rollover angle" but not rolling the vehicle over entirely. During the second drill, the operator rolled the Humvee 180 degrees but the vehicle occupants did not release their seatbelts.

Peyregne said this drill, during which the occupants are suspended upside down for about 30 seconds, tests for panic and is meant to instill confidence that the seatbelts do work. During the third drill, the device is rolled 180 degrees again and occupants are asked to actually unbuckle their seatbelts and exit the overturned vehicle.

The fourth and final drill mimics the third except vehicle occupants are asked to exit as if the Humvee had just rolled in water.

"(When a vehicle rolls), there's going to be a lot of chaos but the biggest thing you don't want to do is panic," Peyregne said. "Get organized (and) let the leader take control."

Schwenkler said the HEAT device is a great training aid because it not only allows Soldiers to better understand what to do in a rollover situation but also what it's like to be in the confined space of an up-armored Humvee.

"This is good, realistic training and it really shows the chaos that comes with a rollover" he said.

The new HEAT device brings Fort Rucker a huge training capability, Sparks said.

"Conducting training (in the rollover simulator) under controlled conditions will allow vehicle occupants to gain experience in the proper egress procedures," he said. "This training is necessary for Soldiers to achieve self-control and overcome the natural fear and panic following the catastrophic event which led to the rollover event."

Busy preparing for an early summer deployment, Soldiers from B Co., 46th Eng. Bn. are excited to have the HEAT available at Fort Rucker as it will make their deployment preparations a little easier, engineer platoon leader Lt. Jeremy Atkinson said.

"This is a tremendous advantage for us to be able to do this here," he said. "Now, when we get to Fort Polk, La., for pre-deployment training, we will be able to do more battle-focused training."

The seven Soldiers who trained last week will lead more than 100 B Co. Soldiers through the HEAT device Feb. 25-27. Although it took about eight hours to train the trainers, a regular HEAT session should only take about three to four hours.

"This is important training as we get ready for deployment because Soldiers can panic when (a vehicle rolls)," Haywood said. "If Soldiers don't know the proper procedures, it's chaos but if they do this training and know what to do if their (Humvee) rolls, everyone can work together and get out safely."

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