UDARI RANGE, NORTHERN KUWAIT--Of all the dangers in Iraq, you hardly ever think about wrecks. I've been in Baghdad traffic, and it's rough. Few traffic signals, even fewer people paying attention to them. Add in the hazards of war, and driving takes a deadly toll.
But the Army's training for that. Staff Sgt. Rex Anglin is a Master Driving Instructor. I caught up with him along a loop of pavement in the Kuwaiti desert you'd barely call a road. Outside the berm protecting Camp Buehring in far northern Kuwait.
Sounds strange, but Anglin's training involves having soldiers drive off the road. "The basic of this is, when you're driving, upon an obstacle and you've got to maneuver, sometimes either there's holes or potholes, whatever, how to maneuver off the object, off the road and back on the road safely," he explained.
In the passenger seat, for now, sits Pfc. Zachary Ward. "All the Humvees I've driven before were just regular Humvees, they want us to get a feel for what the new up armored ones are like, which, they're a lot more heavier, top heavy, so they can roll over a lot easier," said Ward. "They're trying to give us a feeling what it will be like to drive those."
Sgt. Anglin takes us on a lap, then lets soldiers get behind the wheel. "All right, let's go off road. Let off the accelerator. Line your vehicle up, give it gas. Look in your mirror, go back on road. All right," he instructed.
Pfc. Christopher McDonald gets it. "It's pretty different, compared to a regular Humvee, you can feel the weight shifting around when you're moving off road to on road. Basically we did maneuvering around obstacles," he said.
That maneuvering has to be gentle. Pfc. Ward can feel the wheel. "Every turn you make has to be more of a gradual turn," he explained. "You can't make any hard turns, because they're so much more top heavy. And you don't want 'em to roll, so that's pretty much that."
But they do roll and often with deadly results. So the trainers have a tool to get soldiers out alive.
It looks like a Humvee on a giant rotisserie. Staff Sgt. Brian Cain took it for a spin. Literally. "The instructors did something that I never thought I would do and that is be discombobulated in a vehicle. I had no clue where I was at one point. But you pick up on it real fast," he said.
The troops do a little classroom time, seeing the dangers of a top- heavy Humvee and learning a little of the physics of bodies in motion, plus the survival skills to survive the ride. Then, it's on to the giant spinner.
It's one thing to watch from the outside, but what's it like inside? I took a seat with one of the groups. The idea, obviously already buckled in, brace yourself, hold on and possibly most importantly, hold on to your gunner, the guy who can't wear a seatbelt and can easily be tossed out or rolled over.
I was sitting right behind the driver, so part of my role was to grab him by his body armor, help pull him in, out of the turret and hold on to him as the Humvee rolls like a ride at Disney World.
Once you stop rolling, find a door you can open and get out. In the real world, they'll be setting security around the Humvee, checking to make sure everyone's alright and calling for help.
Staff Sgt. Cain's pretty pleased with the training. "It's very nerve wracking to know that you're about to do something that's not normal," he said. "You're going to flip a vehicle and get out of it safely. But in a real combat environment, you don't know that you can do that. But in this environment here, they're showing us how we can learn better how we can get out of a vehicle without panic. Then you can drive a Humvee, you can do all kinds of night driving, all the training that the Army enables us to do, but until you actually roll a vehicle and do some of this training, you understand the full spectrum of what you're doing behind the wheel, you have responsibilities to your team mates, not just yourself and the vehicle."
To see what the Humvee rollover training was like, visit my blog page for more.