Improvised simulator helps GIs train for Humvee rollovers
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — First it tips 25 degrees to the left. Then it creaks back again, this time tilting to the right. The sand-colored Humvee cab stops upright momentarily before flipping. But that’s where the ride abruptly ends — and the occupants must scramble to get out while suspended upside down.
The Humvee rollover simulator, despite how it looks, isn’t fun. Just ask soldiers who ate a mouthful of dust and struggled with their seat belts or doors. But few if any of the 50 GIs who took a spin in the device last week at this desert camp complained.
“It was an experience,” said Sgt. Bridget Hagens of the 3rd Personnel Command. “You’re on top of your head, for one thing, the door is heavy, but I would say I’m prepared if I’m in a rollover.”
That’s the thrust of the Humvee Egress Awareness Training, or HEAT, which began at Arifjan in June with the aim of preventing soldier injuries and death in Humvee rollovers. Since the beginning of the Iraq war, more than 300 Humvee rollovers have been reported, killing at least 116 and injuring 132, according to U.S. Army statistics.
The Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC), part of U.S. Army Central, “saw we were just having too many rollover accidents and fatalities,” Maj. Michael Sherman, 377th Theater Support Command safety officer, told soldiers. “(They said) do something.”
The HEAT simulator, as the training device is called, was the idea of Chief Warrant Officer Rikki Cox of CFLCC’s Forward Repair Activity, said Army Lt. Col. John Hermann, Army Materiel Command support operations officer.
He borrowed the concept from the Air Force aircraft dunker that trains pilots to swim out of a sinking plane. “We’ve had about (36) soldiers die when their Humvees went into a canal,” Hermann said. “The chief put two and two together.”
Army Materiel Command, Hermann said, is building 31 HEAT trainers for about $33,000 apiece to be placed throughout the theater, in Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq and Qatar. So far about 8,000 soldiers have been trained on simulators made from scrap or battle-damaged vehicles. The cabs are mounted to an elevated M-1 engine maintenance stand and are powered by a motor that can spin the device 180 degrees in 6 seconds.
“I know already it’s saved a life,” Hermann said, sharing the story of a soldier who never saw the value of wearing a seat belt until taking a spin in the simulator. One week after the training, he was in a rollover, buckled up. The soldier told Hermann the training convinced him to strap in and thinks he likely would have been killed otherwise.
Sherman said statistics indicate that about half of all injuries in Humvee rollovers could have been prevented with a little more knowledge of how to react. “What we’re finding is most people have never been in a rollover,” he said. “This gives them one experience point where they can think through what they need to do.”
Another reason for the training: More top-heavy Humvees are easier to roll. Maj. Joe Harden, 143rd Transportation Command safety officer, said the Army’s up-armored Humvees have about a 30-degree center of gravity.
New temporary armor inched the tipping point to about 25 degrees on its side, an angle that will drop again when yet more armor pieces weighing hundreds of pounds are added to the vehicles to replace the temporary plates.
The armor enhancements are designed to protect soldiers from roadside bombs, but some GIs point out the Humvee was never intended to be a tank and wonder when enough will be enough.
“We’re hitting the point where we’re maxing out the vehicle,” said Maj. Todd Waytashek, 377th Theater Support Command executive officer, country officer and operations officer. “If I were Joe Infantry, I wouldn’t want any more armor. Just cut me loose.”
Harden said the Army never planned “on putting all this armor on. These things used to have canvass doors. Now they have steel-armor plates and bullet-resistant windows. Some roads (in Iraq and Afghanistan) have shoulders that are that steep. You get into Afghanistan, and you may have a 20-degree angle going down the hill. If you swerve to the right or to the left, this thing has a tendency to roll.”
According to Army statistics, 37 deaths have been reported in up-armored M1114 Humvee rollovers in Iraq.
The extra armor, however, brings comfort to some road warriors.
Last week at Camp Navistar in northern Kuwait, Spc. Steven Musiol, a medic and convoy security escort driver for 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment, eagerly bolted some Frag Kit 5 armor plates on a Humvee with two fellow GIs.
“We haven’t used them yet, but it’s going to be nice,” he said. “The more protection, the better, I feel.”