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Citing shortage of armored humvees, Army has soldiers train on simulators
Julie Weisberg
Published: Wednesday August 8, 2007

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U.S. Army bases have begun to use computer simulators to familiarize soldiers with combat driving techniques for the "up-armored" Humvee because the military has not provided enough of the vehicles to allow for troop training, a RAW STORY investigation has found.

Manufactured by Virginia-based military contractor MPRI, the virtual vehicle is a computerized convoy and combat patrol driver’s training program for the M-1114, a more heavily armored ("up-armored") version of the military’s standard Humvee.

The simulators are now in use by the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum in New York to train soldiers going to fight in Iraq. The Third Army Forward also has several of the machines at its Kuwait base.

Dick Gerding, vice president of business operations for MPRI’s simulator group and a former longtime Army infantryman, said most new Humvees are delivered straight to the front lines overseas and therefore are unavailable for troop training.

Therefore, the company – which also conducts in-theater convoy driver training for the Army – worked with the military to develop the simulator to help fill the gap.

“We don’t have enough of them built to train [soldiers] ... so, drivers don’t get training on them until they get to Iraq,” Gerding said.

But Army Public Information Officer Major Thomas McCuin said that soldiers do receive some sort of combat driving training before they deploy.

“Combat driving training is always something that they do,” McCuin said. “Maybe not as much as we would like ... maybe not with the up-armored Humvee.

Major Tom Alexander, a public affairs officer for Third Army, said that while “the best opportunity to train is prior to deployment, soldiers conduct training even while they are deployed.”

“They are getting some type of training in Kuwait,” Alexander said. “We don’t send soldiers into harm’s way without training.”

He added that while the Army’s Kuwait base is technically within the Iraq War theater, it is a “much more controlled environment.”

Alexander said that to his knowledge, the combat driving simulators – which he says are part of a wider driver training program in the Army – have not yet been put to use in Kuwait.

When asked if the shortage of up-armored vehicles has affected the Army’s ability to properly prepare troops behind the wheel before deployment, McCuin declined to respond, instead saying he would pass on the information to RAW STORY at a later time. He did not.

The up-armored Humvee serves as an integral part of the Army’s combat, convoy and reconnaissance missions in the Middle East. In 2005, the Pentagon ramped up production of the vehicle to help protect troops from insurgents increasing use of improvised explosive devices – or IEDs – along Iraq’s roadsides.

Make-shift bombs are now the leading cause of death and injury of soldiers in Iraq.

McCuin told RAW STORY that some 14,000 of the vehicles currently are in use in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But while the up-armored vehicle does offer soldiers enhanced protection, the M-1114 weighs some 2,000 pounds more than the standard Humvee, making it more difficult to maneuver in streets and in the sand. It is also top heavy, which has led to numerous accidents and rollovers.

In a recent MPRI press release, Lt. Col. Mark Meadows of the 10th Mountain Division said the Army has “identified that driving has become a critical combat skill just like shooting, communications and medical skills.”

“As a former battalion commander in Baghdad, I have seen the importance of having confident, competent drivers in the combat zone,” Meadows said in the release, adding that he is “convinced” that the simulated combat driver training for the up-armored Humvee “will save lives.”

Spokespersons for Fort Drum did not respond to RAW STORY requests for comment.

MPRI’s simulator, which cost about $100,000 apiece, trains soldiers on three virtual vehicles: a standard commercial vehicle, a standard Humvee and the M-1114. According to a company press release, it allows the driver to experience how the vehicles handle differently.

“At a reduced cost to the government, simulators have a greater through-put than actually going through the process of assigning a driver, dispatching a vehicle and assigning an instructor to manually take notes as is currently being done during the [military] driver training and licensing process,” Alexander said. “Further, it gives soldiers the experience of ‘driving’ without the risk of accident or injury – much the same as flight simulators do for pilots.”

Gerding said most of the non-commissioned officers who participated in the program’s run-through this spring at Fort Drum said they support the use of the simulator in pre-deployment training.

“They said to me, ‘If only we had this two years ago,’” he said.

Gerding added that the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell in Kentucky and Fort Polk in Louisiana are also interested in using the simulator in their pre-deployment training programs.