MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. —May 11, 2005 in Iraq was just one of the many days in the past that proved why Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles are necessary for marine forces. 

Aaron Mankin, who was a Marine combat correspondent at the time, would probably agree after his experience that day when an improvised explosive device destroyed the 26-ton amphibious assault vehicle he was in.  

The blast inflicted second- and third-degree burns over 25 percent of then-Lance Cpl. Mankin’s body, also permanently damaging his lungs after he inhaled the heat, flames and debris.  He has since undergone about 40 surgeries.  Sadly, the six other Marines he was with died in the blast.

The Marine Corps Times reported in September 2008 that roadside bombs remained the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops in Iraq.  Data from the Pentagon showed that 70 percent of the then-4,151 troop deaths were caused by roadside bombs.

IEDs still remain the weapon of choice in both Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JEIDDO), which was created by the Department of Defense in February 2006 to counter the threat of IEDs.

The MRAP is meant to protect service members from the violent, deadly blasts of IEDs like the one that changed Mankin’s life forever and killed six others.  The armored vehicles feature V-shaped hulls to deflect any explosive forces originating from below the vehicle, protecting both the vehicle and the passengers. 

“They’ve taken hits – many, many hits that would have killed soldiers and Marines in up-armored Humvees,” Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a June 2008 interview. 

USA Today reported Feb. 4 that there are currently 9,746 MRAPs in Iraq and 1,608 in Afghanistan. 

But having MRAPs in the two countries is only half the fight.  Marines must first know how to operate the new-age vehicles correctly if they are to continue being effective.

“The probability of no fatalities is great, and the vehicles have been proven effective,” said Gunnery Sgt. William Cartwright, the director of the 2nd Marine Logistics Group’s Motor Vehicle Incidental Drivers School.  “This is why it’s important that everyone know how to operate these vehicles.  They are the standard for transporting troops now.”

Cartwright and his team of 11 motor transport Marines and one corpsman conduct the 2nd MLG MRAP Operator Course once every month to train Marines on the basic knowledge needed to drive and maintain the vehicles.

The native of Norfolk, Va., who deployed to Iraq in 2003, implemented the course for 2nd MLG in December 2007 after familiarizing himself with the vehicles at Force Protection Industries in Ladson, S.C.  Since then his teams have instructed more than 500 Marines from a multitude of different military jobs on operating MRAPs.

Cartwright said the prerequisite for the course is that all students are certified to operate a Humvee.  With that said, most individuals who come through the course aren’t familiar with operating a large vehicle like an MRAP. 

Sgt. Danny Koleski, the school’s chief instructor, said the vehicles are also more high tech in comparison to the Humvees and 7-tons that most Marines are used to.  He stated that the MRAP simply takes time and knowledge to make it effective to its full extent.

Koleski, a native of Louisville, Ky., said the five-day course gives the students the knowledge necessary to return to their units, operate the vehicles and find success.  Cartwright said the course features classroom instruction, vehicle and safety familiarization, driving skills practice and on-road driving time.

“Our instructors are licensed to operate and teach how to use the MRAPs and every other vehicle the Marine Corps operates,” said Koleski, who deployed to Iraq in 2005 and 2006.  “They receive more than 40 hours of training in driving and maintaining the MRAPs.  We try to make sure the students get as much knowledge from us about these vehicles as possible.”

Students must show clear familiarization with the MRAPs before they are actually allowed to drive them.  This begins following classroom time with what the instructors call a “show me test”.  This test presents various questions involving the MRAP that students are required to answer correctly if they are to continue their training.

Koleski said if they accomplish this test, they must then complete what is known as Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services.  This document addresses every part of the vehicle from the tires to the fluids and seatbelts to ensure everything is functioning properly. 

“You have to take care of these vehicles,” Koleski said.  “If you start it wrong, you can mess up the computer.  If you don’t check the fluids, the vehicle can become inoperable.  These vehicles are vital to operations, so they have to stay operational.”

Once they get past these various tests, they begin their driving skills training.  They call this the “dog leg.”  The course is made up of cones, simulating objects like a pole or a rock, spread out along a narrow gravel path.  Koleski said the goal is to weave the MRAP through the cones without hitting one. 

He said the dog leg gets the individuals familiar with how the vehicle turns and how the breaks feel.  He added that it also helps them become use to the visibility limits that come with the MRAP.  In the end, these various skill sets builds their confidence as drivers.

“The vehicle maneuvers and handles excellent,” said Pfc. Marion Frye, a 20-year-old motor transport operator with Combat Logistics Battalion 8, 2nd MLG.  “You just have to learn to judge the obstacles properly in order to get around them safely.”

The students are permitted to begin their on-road driving time after they successfully negotiate the dog leg.  Koleski said they complete 35 road miles at the school.  They must then return to their units with learner’s permits until they gain the remaining 90 miles experience required to attain their license.  Once they achieve the total 125 miles experience, they may return to the school to take the final driver’s test.

Lance Cpl. Miles Malinowski, a motor transport operator with CLB-8, had prior experience with MRAPs before coming to the course.  The 22-year-old, who deployed to Iraq in both 2007 and 2008, said the Marine Corps has done an excellent job transitioning to what the fight dictates with the introduction and fielding of MRAPs.  

But the Marine Corps has not finished adapting yet as Afghanistan terrain poses problems for the MRAP due to scarce paved roads and rutted mountain passes that are common in the region.    

To combat this, the pentagon plans to field an all-terrain vehicle later this year to provide off-road maneuverability and enough armor to deflect the growing threat of roadside bombs in Afghanistan, according to the Feb. 4 article by USA Today.  This vehicle will combine the maneuverability of the Humvee with the protection of the MRAP.

According to JIEDDO, there were 3,276 recorded IED attacks in Afghanistan in 2008, which killed 161 coalition service members and wounded 722.

“It’s a desire to get off the roads and be able to maneuver cross-country,” Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan, the Pentagon’s MRAP program head, said in the article.  “That does a couple of things.  First of all it increases the areas that they can maneuver and occupy.  But it also significantly increases the targeting problem for the bad guys.  You’re much less predictable if you can go many more places.”

The Marines of the logistics group’s MVIDS are ready to adapt to any new equipment to help ensure Marines accomplish their missions in Afghanistan, much as in the past when the need for trained Marines to operate MRAPs in Iraq came up.

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