Master sergeant works at adding heft to Humvees in Iraq
BAGHDAD — The ideal, soldiers say, is that no one in Iraq should have to go outside the wire in anything less than M-1114 factory up-armored Humvee.
The reality is, little more than 20 percent of Humvees in Iraq are armored, and some soldiers trust their survival to a few sandbags and steel sheets.
Until the ideal is attainable, Master Sgt. Dennis P. Lichtenberg is striving to create the best-protected Humvees short of an M-1114.
Lichtenberg has invented a system he calls “The Lick Kit,” a play on his nickname “Lick,” pinned on by fellow reservists from the Pensacola, Fla.-based 350th Civil Affairs Detachment Command.
His inspiration for the Lick Kit was the Feb. 16 roadside-bomb death of Spc. Nicole M. Frye, 19, who was on convoy-escort duty with the 415th Civil Affairs Command.
Since her death in an unarmored Humvee, Lichtenberg — the 350th CA force-protection noncommissioned officer in charge — has been tweaking a whole array of designs to give his soldiers a fighting chance on convoy escorts.
Lick Kits are built around a unique system of multiple energy absorption techniques that even incorporate old flak jackets that Lichtenberg brought to Iraq from his job as a deputy-sheriff with Broward County, Fla., sheriff’s department.
Each door has a “bullet box” with 6 mm-thick exterior plate, with a gap of six inches, then another 5-mm steel plate.
The first piece of steel absorbs most of a 7.62 mm round’s energy.
The slowed, mushroomed round then stops after hitting the second plate.
And to make sure the round stays in the bullet box, Lichtenberg puts the flak jacket inside the gap between the two.
To test his design, Lichtenberg fired an AK-47 at it from 25 yards, and it stopped the round.
Moreover, it stopped rounds from M-16s, which have greater penetration, he said.
Lick Kits focus on protecting Humvee drivers because insurgents often target drivers, realizing they’re focused on the road, he said.
It’s often the secondary crash after the driver loses control that kills the rest of the crew, or disorients them so they can’t return fire, Lichtenberg said.
In addition to the bullet boxes, drivers get a ballistic glass window.
“We don’t want him to shoot, just drive,” Lichtenberg said.
Other passenger doors get the bullet boxes, but not the glass in order to allow a wide-open field of fire.
Lick Kits aren’t perfect, “but are better than what we had before … no protection,” Lichtenberg said.
“Any time out of the Green Zone, you have a 50/50 chance” of being attacked.“It’s very stressful … and we’re trying to relay that to command.”
Any unit with even a few thousand dollars in force-protection funds can duplicate his designs, Lichtenberg said.
It costs about $2,500 for four kits, and he’s modified eight of his 20 vehicles.
Near his headquarters in the Green Zone, workers at an Iraqi fabrication business are building more kits under the supervision of manager Qhasan Murad.
The kits are always evolving, Lichtenberg added, and he jokes that it’s “German engineering at its finest,” alluding to his German ancestry.
He credits his father, Louis Lichtenberg, a retired Chrysler Corp. mechanic in Minneapolis, Minn., for teaching him how to shape steel to his needs.
“He always says, ‘If you’re going to do something, do it right,’ ” he said. Of course, when creative juices are flowing, not everything goes perfectly.
Some of the early ideas were awful, specifically drop-down doors, Lichtenberg said.
In theory, the doors would be easy-in, easy-out. But the weight made them too heavy to pull up.
Many of the best ideas and modifications came from soldiers, and Lichtenberg’s operation is something of a custom-design shop.
Spc. Jason Copeland, 20, a reservists from Pensecola, Fla., said he suggested steel curtains on the rear of passenger windows to protect the face and neck of soldiers the sitting position, yet allow them to fire out the windows.
And his truck — which has since been handed off — had diamond-patterned steel in the rear bed for surer footing.
Lick Kits are always evolving.
Steel floor plates slightly angled to the rear give soldiers a better chance of kicking grenades out of the vehicle.
Bullet box plates are concave for additional space, and to redirect rounds.
Lichtenberg says he and other soldiers have new ideas every day, including using rebar to build an exterior grid that would detonate rocket-propelled grenades before they penetrate Humvee doors.
The current modifications make Humvees look like a cross between a Brinks armored car and a Humvee — and the robustness is no small factor, soldiers say.
One model belongs to Brig. Gen. Sandy Davidson, the 350th CA commanding general.
“He loves his!” Lichtenberg said.
Other soldiers aren’t as enthusiastic, though all interviewed said Lick Kits are far better than what they had — nothing.
“The Iraqis see steel, and they don’t shoot as much,” said Sgt. Greg Greenlee, with the 350th CA. “I don’t know if they’ll stop a bullet [but] they’ll work for now.”
In his Humvee’s original configuration, the gunner’s entire body was exposed, said Spc. Mike Carter, a gunner with the 350th. “You were just out there in the wind. Now, a lot more ‘me’ is protected as a gunner.”
He added that he’s confident the armor will withstand a small arms attack.
But big questions remain about how well Lick Kits will protect against bombs and rocket-propelled grenades, Carter said.