CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C.– Airmen here began shipping six new Army high-mobility engineer excavator vehicles Sept. 29 to warfighters in Southwest Asia.

Charleston is the first Air Force base to receive and ship the HMEE, a newly developed construction vehicle that provides a wide range of mobility while affording more protection for the operator than standard road repair and construction equipment, officials said.

“The purpose of the high-mobility engineering excavator is exactly that — mobility,” said Chris Saucedo, the general manager of the company awarded the contract to build the HMEE. “The machine drives at 60 mph both on and off road.”

The concept has been proven with less-mobile equipment in terms of rapid road repair, Saucedo said. “Now, you have a machine that can actually integrate into patrols [and] maintain convoy speeds, and it doesn’t require additional lift assets,” he added.

Because it can open up roads, the HMEE lets commanders bring logistics capabilities into their tactical patrols, dramatically increasing mobility, Saucedo said. It also can create obstacles for the enemy, and it contributes to survivability with the ability to provide water and supplies, build berms and lay electrical lines, he added.

“I want every troop in harm’s way to know that there is a highly dedicated team behind the HMEE, and we’re very optimistic and very fortunate to be supporting the troops,” Saucedo said. “It’s been a long road, but we’re all behind you and pulling for you 100 percent.”

Air Force Staff Sgt. Heather Kern, assigned to the 437th Aerial Port Squadron here, said the vehicles will give deployed engineers a greater measure of protection. “What’s great about these machines is that they are mine-resistant, and they give our guys over there who are driving them a precious few seconds to get out of harm’s way if they do get hit by a mine or improvised explosive device,” she said.

Charleston was selected to process the HMEEs for shipment because it’s the closest base to the production site in Savannah, Ga.

“It’s hard work as far as the loading of the aircraft [is concerned],” Kern said. “It’s very physical, but it’s worth every minute of it. It’s very important to make sure the guys on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan have the equipment they need.”

In 2007, the contractor received a $230 million procurement contract from the Army to produce 800 HMEEs, all of which will be built at the Savannah facility. The vehicle is the result of a four-year program of design, development and testing between the manufacturers and the Army. Charleston airmen will continue to ship the vehicles as they become available.

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