By Christian Marquardt, 7th Army Joint Multinational Training CommandSeptember 14, 2009
HOHENFELS, Germany (Sept. 14, 2009) -- The blast shakes the ground and sends up a cloud of dirt and leaves. A convoy of Soldiers has just been hit by an improvised explosive device, or IED.
Moments later, a large truck emerges through the dust of the explosion, followed by the rest of the convoy. They move off down the road to continue the mission.
The Soldiers driving the truck -- a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, vehicle -- have just passed another training test.
Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team are the first in Europe to use MRAPs as part of their mission rehearsal exercise in August and September at the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command's, Hohenfels Training Area.
The MRAPs are new to the training program in U.S. Army, Europe. In July, 40 MRAPs were shipped from Kuwait to JMTC for use in Mission Rehearsal Exercises and vehicle familiarization for USAREUR Soldiers before they are deployed downrange.
The vehicles are outfitted with more than 10 tons of armor and a sophisticated array of IED countermeasures and safety features, including a v-shaped hull to deflect explosions away from the vehicle, and suspension floors and seats that reduce the injuries caused by the shockwaves.
After a short familiarization course on how to operate the MRAPs, the 173rd Soldiers incorporated the vehicles into the training scenarios out in the Hohenfels Training Area.
"A lot of these Soldiers have never been in MRAPs before," said Capt. Derek Hoffman, a JMTC Senior Maintenance observer/controller at the Hohenfels Training Area. "The chance to become familiar with them here in the training area without all the stresses of being deployed is very positive."
The 173rd used the MRAPs during convoy operations where they were forced to react to IED attacks and opposing forces. The tactics are similar to those used with the traditional High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle - better known as humvees - with a few exceptions.
"They're tall vehicles so you really have to pay attention when you're moving around them," said Hoffman. "The Soldiers have been a little more cautious when they come out of the doors, and that's understandable because they're a bit higher."
The 173rd Soldiers were impressed with many of the benefits that the MRAPs offered over the humvees.
"You have a really good view of the whole terrain, sort of like a bird's eye view, compared to the humvee," said Spc. Luis Gutierrez, who just returned from his first training convoy using the MRAP.
"You really get a sense of security when you're in there," said Gutierrez. "It's the thing of the future."
JMTC will include the MRAPs in more of its future training rotations at its European training areas to better prepare Soldiers for the types of equipment and scenarios that they will experience downrange.
"We're able to learn the equipment before it's just thrown at us, and we get to put it into play," said Gutierrez. "You don't want to be learning your equipment during the war.