This has been a more interesting week than usual in Iraq. We were all surprised to hear about President Obama making a surprise visit to Camp Victory. If you look back a few weeks, you’ll see that I described Camp Victory in some detail. My guess is that Obama met with soldiers at the Al Faw palace, and spent some time with Iraqi leaders and US Generals around that area. Security is always tight there, but incredibly so for that visit!
Camp Victory is part of the Victory Base Complex that completely surrounds the Baghdad Airport (BIAP). It’s in the SouthWest part of Baghdad, sort of on the outskirts of the city. It’s about 60 miles south of where I am in Balad.
Obama had much to say. I tend to base my judgments on what I see, not what others say. What I see is this: The US is building lots of new facilities on a few centralized bases. There is no slow-down in construction or missions. We’re spending millions of dollars on new stuff all the time. The US is getting ready to stay for the long haul, just like we are in Germany or Japan 60+ years later. I think that we’ll have 50,000 troops here for the next 20 years, at least. There will be no big, sudden pull-out.
Anyway, something even more interesting than Obama’s visit happened. We had a morning at the MRAP (mine resistant armor plated vehicle) site. The director of the MRAP program here is a Mr. Brotherwood, a Department of the Army Civilian. He gave a great talk and described many of the components of an MRAP. Here is a picture of him showing us the heavy, external armor plating:
There are several other civilians who work on MRAP’s and they are very skilled mechanics. Some are DA or DOD civilians, some are contractors. DOD civilians wear uniforms, but without rank or unit patches. Contractors wear civilian clothes:
The MRAP site does great work to field new MRAPs, or to repair any damaged MRAPs and get them back in service. MRAPs are useful because they are enormous, and heavily armored. They have a “V” shaped hull, to deflect blasts away from passengers. They have a good ability to survive any kind of attack, and the people who work at the MRAP program take pride in protecting soldiers who ride in MRAPs. They are not cheap, building one costs about $400,000 or more, and with all the extra electronics and other systems installed, the total cost for all equipment in an MRAP could be as high as $1 million. And get this, the military has recently fielded its 10,000th MRAP! But it’s worth it, because the MRAP definitely saves lives and does a much better job than the Humvee ever did. One bad thing is that there are at least 4 variants of MRAPs, and parts are usually not interchangeable. So the cost for managing parts is very high. This is because the military needed MRAPs quickly, and had to order from several different manufacturers (BAE Systems, International, Force Protection Industries, and another).
(the MRAP above is a Cougar, and has an ambulance red-cross, for all the good that will do)
Here is a giant tent used to work on MRAPs:
One interesting thing is the tires. They are about 3.5 feet in diameter, and cost $600 each. They are designed to run-flat for up to 30 miles if necessary:
The last part of the tour was to view some battle damaged MRAPs, and that was a sobering sight. But almost all of the MRAPs, while sustaining damage to the mechanical systems outside the hull, served their purpose in protecting the people inside. So like I said, the MRAP tour was very interesting. We were all grateful to Mr. Brotherwood and the other civilians for showing us around. I gave him a coin on behalf of the JAG (legal) office.
After the tour, some contractors volunteered to give us a chance to drive around on the MRAP training course. They spend 40 hours giving instruction to drivers here, to learn how to properly operate the vehicles and to prevent roll-overs. We from the JAG office just spent an hour and a half to drive for fun on a large gravel field. They did set up some pylons and had us weave through them. These MRAPs are huge, and the field of vision is poor, so precise driving is impossible, but I was able to do the obstacle course without knocking over any pylons. Here are some pictures of me with an RG-33 MRAP:
At the start of the day, I really wasn’t looking forward to going to the training. But by the end, I had to admit it had been a lot of fun to learn many amazing facts about the MRAP and its ability to protect soldiers, and even getting a chance to drive one. It is a better vehicle in every way than the Humvee, faster and more responsive, and much better protected than the death-trap of a Humvee. The only bad thing is that your field of vision is poor. So when I ride my bike around Balad, I’ll be sure to steer extra clear of the MRAP. But I’m grateful for the great cost and work done on the MRAP program to protect soldiers who go out on missions.
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