The inaugural Joint Light Tactical Vehicle Operator New Equipment Training (JLTV OPNET) course at Fort Hunter Liggett, California began August 10, 2020 with the arrival of 18 Army Reserve Soldiers from six different commands. For the Soldiers who drove the new vehicle, it was thumbs up for the features that make it stand out against the Humvee.
“The obstacle course has gone extremely well,” said Col. Charles Kidd, executive officer to the commanding general, 84th Training Command out of Fort Knox, Kentucky. “The Soldiers I’ve spoken with are very enthusiastic about the handling of the vehicle compared to what they’re familiar with in a Humvee.”
Spc. Nicole Hathcock, 415th Civil Affairs Battalion out of Portage, Michigan, echoed that sentiment. “It’s a beast compared to the Humvee,” she said. “It has a lot more room, a lot more technology, better features and functions. You feel more safe and secure in it.”
The new installation facility also garnered kudos. “Everybody here on Fort Hunter Liggett has been very helpful, especially range control and range maintenance in building us the course and helping us set everything up,” said Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Severson, course NCOIC and instructor out of Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, home of the first JLTV training program. “The billeting has been really great. Mrs. (Debbie) King has been very helpful with requests I’ve made for buildings, and places to stay for my instructors and students. It’s been a great program out here.”
FHL garrison commander Col. Charles Bell said, “The course manager and the 84th Training Command have provided great feedback that our staff has provided unwavering support not only during the planning process and the construction and layout of the course, but also during execution.”
Two more week-long classes follow in August at FHL, with the second one representing seven different commands and even active duty Army Soldiers in a 28-student class taught by 15 Fort McCoy instructors.
“The course is principally designed for the Army Reserve, but we can fill in with active Army if there’s space for them,” said Kidd, who extols the modernization of the tactical vehicle destined to mostly replace the venerable High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV, or simply Humvee).
“It has greater effectiveness in the combat environment,” said Kidd. “It has the ability to forge in an austere environment, and to go on a grade of 30 degrees and keep the platform level so the driver has a more comfortable ride.”
“I was a gunner in Iraq,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Couturier of the 415th Civil Affairs Battalion out of Portage, Michigan. “Having the ability to level out the gunner so you’re not pointing up at the sky, but actually be able to engage the enemy as he’s engaging you, is definitely a plus.”
“The most important thing is survivability against IEDs and small arms fire,” said Severson. “The armor on it is much better. It’s something I wish I’d had in Iraq in ‘03 and ‘04. If you take a blast with an IED, this vehicle won’t blow apart. It will keep the crew safe. The Humvee would pretty much blow apart and you’d get projectiles flying through the cab.”
The JLTV has the ability to raise and lower the vehicle body for various terrains, can be up-armored in the field, and can inflate or deflate the tires in extreme conditions. In addition, features such as a five-point harness versus the lap-shoulder belt, a backup camera, and (wait for it) cup holders, place it at the top of the next generation of Army tactical vehicles.
Kidd stood in front of a JLTV with a fully up-armored B-2 kit. “It allows the vehicle to take more punishment than what a regular Humvee would take in its up-armored capability,” he said. “The vehicle is also a modular format, and when it gets hit the vehicle is able to maintain its uniformity. The wheels and axles will blow out versus the capsules where the soldiers are riding.
The OPNET course will also be taught at Fort Dix, New Jersey, spreading out three training centers across the country. Kidd said this puts the new vehicle and its students through their paces in various types of weather: snow, ice, rain, dry heat and humidity.
Bell said FHL has some unique attributes that made it a desirable location for the JLTV program on the West Coast. “We have vast areas of open space that provide unimpeded access for the students. The Mediterranean climate is conducive to training. This is probably one of the few installations in the Army Reserve where we can train year-round with no breaks.”
The obstacle course is designed to give Soldiers confidence in driving over rugged terrain in an austere environment, with the most punishment meted out in the angled log crawl, brake modulation obstacle, square potholes, and the formidable rock garden. “Traditionally the Humvee would have a very difficult time, and (the JLTV) is handling it without any issues or concerns,” said Kidd.
“It’s a lot faster, a lot more maneuverable, definitely a lot more off-roading capabilities,” said Couturier. “Being able to adjust the ride heights is a huge plus for the vehicle because you never know where you’re going to be.”
Hathcock said it was “a blast” driving the obstacle course. “The most thrilling was the potholes because you have to have a tight grip on the wheel or you’ll lose control.” The students also practiced stopping at high speed, which makes the front of the vehicle tip downward as the rear aims distinctly upward. “It stops on a dime,” said Hathcock. “It was interesting flooring it and then being able to stop so quickly with such a large heavy piece of equipment.”
Staff Sgt. Bill Fuerbringer, 415th Civil Affairs Bn., said the rock garden was the most challenging for him when the vehicle nosed skyward. “The most intimidating part was, you couldn’t see in front of you. All you could see was above the horizon, the sky. You kind of had to feel your way through it.”
He was most impressed by the comfortable ride and the electronics. “Everybody’s excited to try it out and get a feel for it. At first it’s a little intimidating but this class is good about taking some of that apprehension away.” Fuerbringer added, “Being able to withstand IEDs much more definitely makes it a much better vehicle.”
Training in the COVID-19 environment has been a challenge, said Severson. “It made the classroom environment really difficult, trying to set up social distancing six feet apart so students and instructors don’t have to wear their masks all the time, all day long. It’s made it difficult outside, to keep the mask on and try to hold a conversation, especially when a vehicle’s running.”
Bell said the pre-screening requirements helped assure that arriving students were COVID-free, and that they remained so with the mask and social distancing requirements while here. Daily temperature checks and sanitization helped assure everyone’s safety.
“I can honestly say when these protocols have been instituted we’ve not had any COVID cases,” he said. “It goes to show our instructors and team are doing a great job.”