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A U.S. soldier killed Saturday south of Baghdad is the first combat death in the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle since production of the vehicles ramped up last year.

According to military officials, the soldier was the gunner in the vehicle. Three other soldiers inside suffered minor injuries. It was unclear whether the gunner was killed by the blast or when the vehicle rolled over after being hit by the blast.

“This is the first death resulting from an IED attack on an MRAP,” said Rear Adm. Greg Smith, a spokesman for Multi-National Force-Iraq, in a statement Tuesday.

However, servicemembers have been killed in older versions of MRAP vehicles before Saturday, said Michael Aldrich of Force Protection Industries, which makes MRAP vehicles.

In November 2006, three servicemembers were killed in an older version of an MRAP vehicle known as the Buffalo, and in the summer 2007, two servicemembers were killed when a Joint EOD Rapid Response Vehicle was hit by an explosively formed penetrator, Aldrich said Tuesday.

In May 2007, the Defense Department stood up an MRAP task force to send newer versions of the MRAP vehicle downrange as quickly as possible. Since then, 1,463 MRAP vehicles have been delivered to U.S. troops in Iraq, as of Jan. 16.

MRAP vehicles have a V-shaped hull, pressurized crew compartments and other design elements meant to protect soldiers from roadside bombs.

According to a New York Times reporter embedded with the unit, the MRAP was hit by a deep-buried bomb that others had passed over earlier in the day. The Times reported that the bomb weighed several hundred pounds and was likely made from fertilizer and set to explode via a pressure switch.

On Monday, the Pentagon identified the soldier as Spc. Richard B. Burress, 25, of Naples, Fla.

Burress was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, out of Fort Stewart, Ga.

According to the Times, officers on scene said the crew compartment had not been compromised by the blast.

“The crew compartment is intact,” Capt. Michael Fritz was quoted as saying. The explosion, he said, would have been big enough “to take out” a Bradley fighting vehicle.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters Tuesday that Saturday’s attack had not caused officials to question the value of MRAP vehicles.

“To the contrary, the attack reaffirmed their survivability,” Morrell said.


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