Armor: December 13, 2004

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Back in early 2003, the United States army only had a hundred or so armored trucks available for operations in Iraq. In the last 20 months, another 16,000 trucks in Iraq and Afghanistan have had armor added (15,000 Humvees, 450 medium trucks and 650 heavy trucks). The Humvees are actually light trucks, and are used not just to move people and supplies around, but to carry troops and weapons to escort convoys of unarmored trucks. This is the heart of the current controversy of the shortage of armored trucks. Currently most of the trucks in Iraq and Afghanistan are not armored (5,000 Humvees, 4,300 medium and 3,600 heavy trucks). The drivers of the larger trucks want armor.

About a third of the casualties in Iraq are from roadside bombs (IEDs, or Improvised Explosive Devices in milspeak.) This is where the non-combat troops driving trucks are most vulnerable. There are also a lot of ambushes with AK-47s and RPGs, but these cause fewer casualties to truck drivers. There are 300-400 convoy operations a day in Iraq, most of them being supply runs. This involves over 3,000 vehicles, and some 6,000 troops. The drivers of the trucks are usually reservists, and finding themselves exposed to this kind of danger, when only months earlier they were civilians, is a shock to the system. While non-combat troops are trained to use their rifles, and other weapons, this is understood to be for emergencies, not for a regular part of their job. Worse yet, the danger is in the form of an ambush, usually from a roadside bomb. Casualties from these attacks are relatively low, although soldiers who drive dangerous routes regularly have about a five percent chance of getting killed or wounded during a 12 month tour. That's a very high casualty rate for non-combat troops, although the reservist military police guarding many convoys were trained for this sort of thing. Many of these army, marine and  air force drivers take it as part of the job. Not a pleasant job, but one they can be proud of. None of these men and women want to get a Purple Heart, but if they do (and especially if they have no permanent, or fatal, injuries), its something they can be proud of. Make no mistake, when it comes to respect in the military, its the combat troops who are always at the top of the pecking order. A REMF (Rear-Echelon Mother, as the combat troops lovingly refer to their non-combat brethren) with a Purple Heart, or even those who can say they rode the MSR (Main Supply Route) in Iraq, will get an approving nod from infantry veterans. 

But right now, the truck drivers are not all that concerned about respect. They are worried about flying objects coming through the windshield or door of their truck when they least expect it. Infantrymen are prepared psychologically for combat, non-combat troops are not. Youve got a lot of anxious truck drivers in Iraq. This is especially true of the hundred or so drivers hauling ammo and fuel on any given day. What has made the attacks more of an issue is the aftereffects of the battle of Fallujah last month. Two weeks of combat caused over 2,000 anti-government fighters to be killed or captured. Several thousand more fled to other areas in central Iraq. Now roadside bombs and ambushes are showing up on routes that used to be safe, or increased the number of attacks on routes that were already dangerous. The unarmored trucks are mainly used on the safe routes. Unarmored trucks are also used on dangerous routes, but they are located in the convoy where they are less likely to suffer damage. Truck drivers are seeing more violence and they want more protection.

The marine drivers look at their army counterparts with some disdain. In the marines, every marine is a rifleman. That means every marine is expected to be ready to face the enemy, and the danger that entails. The army has a lot of drivers who dont mind going into harms way, but would prefer to have a better chance of coming through uninjured. The problem is that theres no way the army can armor all their trucks any time soon. It took 20 months to get 15,000 of them armored, and it could take months to get the rest of them armored. While army commanders wish they had marines as drivers, they dont. The army drivers are concerned, and will remain so until they have an armored truck to ride. In the meantime, more attention will be paid to convoy protection. If you can keep your convoys away from roadside bombs and ambushes, you make the drivers feel a lot better. But for now, the word travels fast when a convoy is hit, and drivers are killed or injured. The drivers can do the math, and know that for every twenty or so convoys, a driver is killed or wounded. While odds like that would be popular in the infantry, non-combat troops driving trucks want some more protection while they face those kinds of risks.

 


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