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The Army is fielding the latest Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles in Iraq, giving them to units who need them most and operate in areas with the highest threat.

While the Pentagon had initially planned to have 7,000 of the vehicles in use in Iraq by summer 2008, that number has been downgraded by military officials. The head of the Department of Defense MRAP task force originally said 3,500 MRAPs would be in Iraq this year, but he later scaled that back to 1,500, saying his first estimate was made “on the fly.”

Still, according to Multi-National Corps–Iraq, the first of the vehicles are being farmed out from Camp Liberty, near Baghdad.

According to a news release issued Friday, soldiers from units receiving the vehicles undergo a weeklong course in driving, operating and maintaining the new vehicles.

“I’m really impressed by the vehicle, mainly because of the height, and the fact that it can drive about 20 to 30 degrees on its side without rolling over,” Spc. Marquis Dawkins, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, was quoted as saying in the release. “It is also much more comfortable.”

Two versions of the MRAPs are being fielded: one that holds six soldiers and one that holds 10.

The vehicles have V-shaped hulls to deflect blasts from underneath and have proved to withstand roadside bombs better than up-armored Humvees.

Since January, about 500 MRAPs have been delivered to the CENTCOM theater of operations, of which all but about 20 are in Iraq, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in mid-October.

The Pentagon has authorized 15,274 MRAPs for all branches of the service, with 10,000 for the Army, 3,700 for the Marine Corps, 697 for the Air Force, 544 for the Navy and 333 for Special Operations Command.

“The vehicle has an angled bottom shell on it so it can deflect blasts a lot,” Pfc. Nicholas Lane, of the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, was quoted as saying after the training. “Hopefully, it will keep us safer out there.”

“Throughout this week we are learning how to work on the trucks, and we’re learning how to drive them,” Lane said. “This is the first course, and the vehicles are still new so we’re just taking it step by step.”

Stars and Stripes reporter Jeff Schogol contributed to this report.

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