(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- As U.S. focus shifts to Afghanistan, the Department of Defense awarded a contract to Oshkosh Corporation to supply the military with a new vehicle better suited to the Afghan environment, the Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected All-Terrain Vehicle.

As M-ATVs arrive in Afghanistan, instructors here are preparing troops for the eventual fielding of the vehicles by conducting driver's training.

With an independent suspension system designed for off-road mobility, the M-ATV was built specifically to navigate Afghanistan's rugged landscape while providing protection against roadside bombs.

"This vehicle is just a well-rounded vehicle," said Keith Warren, an Oshkosh Corporation field service representative and instructor here. "It protects troops and goes over all kinds of terrain."

The M-ATV driver's training, a 14-hour course, is being held at five locations in Afghanistan: Forward Operating Base Leatherneck, FOB Sharana, Kandahar Airfield, Bagram Airfield, and Jalalabad. The training focuses on several areas including emergency egress, preventive maintenance checks and services, and day and night driving operations.

"The M-ATV driver's training is important because the center of gravity is different than an MRAP," said Chief Warrant Officer Jeffery Rhoades, the Joint Sustainment Command-Afghanistan safety officer who attended the training. "How it handles on the road is completely different. It's not as top-heavy as the MRAP."

During the emergency-egress portion, servicemembers simulate exiting the M-ATV during both a roll-over and imminent water entry. Troops also review what to do after an egress, like rendering first aid and accounting for weapons.

The preventive maintenance checks and services instruction teaches procedures crews should follow before, during and after operating the vehicle. These procedures help Soldiers locate any equipment needing repair.

In the day-driving segment, troops first learn rudimentary driving skills, like how to start the M-ATV, shift gears and brake. After the classroom instruction, Soldiers drive the M-ATV through a road course that incorporates off-road driving.

Finally, servicemembers return in the evening for night-driving training and a road course.

"I love the M-ATV," said Pfc. Nicholas C. Marshall, an M-249 squad automatic weapon gunner from Palm Harbor, Fla., after driving the road course Nov. 27. "It handles really well. Some of those parts [in the road course] an MRAP would have gotten stuck in. They solved these problems with the M-ATV."

Featuring an armor system with a "V" shaped hull engineered to deflect blasts from improvised explosive devices away from its occupants, the M-ATV seats four passengers and one gunner. While some armored vehicles can weigh more than 60,000 lbs., the M-ATV weighs approximately 25,000 lbs. including standard equipment and fuel.

The first M-ATVs designated for Southern Afghanistan arrived here Oct. 22. Although not sure of the exact date, the initial vehicles fielded to Soldiers will go to the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division-the first Stryker brigade to deploy here, said Warren.