By Staff Sgt. Debralee BestMay 1, 2015
BOSTON - Four semi trucks roll in with Army vehicles loaded on their beds. The Soldiers wait for them to be unloaded so they can take possession of the vehicles.
There isn't much unique about this scenario until you look closer and see these are M1135 Stryker Nuclear, Biological, Chemical, Reconnaissance vehicles, and the Soldiers are with the 401st Chemical Company, an Army Reserve unit in Boston.
This fielding took place April 21-24. While this is the second time the company is being fielded these vehicles, they will be the first Army Reserve unit to support these vehicles logistically at their home station.
The first fielding was in 2013 to prepare the unit for their deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The vehicles were transferred to another company in Georgia to prepare them for deployment, as the 401st would use vehicles already in Afghanistan.
"This benefited the 401st Chemical Company, because they didn't need to have Soldiers in the rear to maintain the vehicles," said Capt. Aaron J. Salter, 401st commander, in an email.
Now that the company has returned from their deployment, this fielding isn't as daunting.
"I think it's really nice that we have them, after being overseas and being able to actually train on them and to come home and to continue training with them, I think, will be really good, especially for us who created those teams while we were overseas," said Sgt. Melissa Pinney, NBC Stryker vehicle commander, 401st Chemical Company, and North Providence, Rhode Island, native.
Training on the equipment is another important aspect of having the vehicles readily available.
"It will be an easy transition to go to the schoolhouse or to fall in on a vehicle somewhere down the line without having to go to the school. The school is important, but in the event we need somebody who is capable sitting in a spot, how else are they going to know if they don't have the actually vehicle to sit in themselves," said Sgt. Suni Muhammad, NBC Stryker vehicle commander, 401st Chemical Company, from Boston. "I think it's essential. It's hard to say you've got a platoon that is responsible for (reconnaissance) on Strykers and you don't have any Strykers. It only makes sense to have the equipment."
There are also benefits for those who are already trained.
"It will also keep us fresh. We've been to the school, but if we don't have the opportunity to continue to train on the vehicles, we're not going to be able to make sure we stay fresh," said Pinney.
This Stryker is designed to test and detect a variety of chemical, biological and nuclear contaminates by testing samples taken from the ground, vegetation, water and air, all while the crew is safe inside.
"It's a totally secure encapsulated vehicle that is an over-pressured system so we can travel in a contaminated area for theoretically an indefinite amount of time," said Muhammad. "It has several different types of air filters, so we're able to filter the air and have a clean environment on the inside of the vehicle."
There is also a glove port and sample tongs to retrieve samples from the safety of the vehicle with storage containers attached to the outside of the Stryker. These samples are eventually recovered for further testing because, while the sensors of the vehicle can detect the nature of the contamination, they cannot always verify the specifics of the contamination.
A normal crew for the NBCRV is four: A driver, vehicle commander, surveyor and assistant surveyor. The driver keeps the vehicle's heading and, if in a contaminated environment, uses three periscopes to navigate. The vehicle commander controls the operations inside the vehicle and communications. The surveyor has the same screens as the commander and views, monitors and controls most of sensors in the vehicle. The surveyor and the commander usually work together to share the work. The assistant surveyor assists in anything the commander or the surveyor need and usually is responsible for any paperwork.
"Eventually you end up working really close with your crew so you know who works well doing what and at the speed they work," said Pinney. "For instance, the glove port can be really tiring, so sometimes the surveyor and assistant surveyor will trade positions because it's left-handed. If you're not left-handed, that makes it more difficult too and can tire you out really quick. Being able to work together is huge in this vehicle."
"It helps if you have a crew that you can work with and is interchangeable," added Muhammad. "Everyone has the same training to include the driver, the same training, but where you specialize is where you hone your skill. You need competent people in those spots."
Having the right crew makes the difference in operations of the NBCRV.
"Essentially, if the vehicle is running right and you're in sync with your crew, it would be a flawless mission," said Muhammad. "That's pretty much how we operate."