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Some soldiers in the 134th Brigade Support Battalion, a Minnesota Army National Guard unit from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, have added extra protection to their Humvees, such as the Kevlar blankets wrapped around this gunner's shield.

Some soldiers in the 134th Brigade Support Battalion, a Minnesota Army National Guard unit from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, have added extra protection to their Humvees, such as the Kevlar blankets wrapped around this gunner's shield. (Anita Powell / S&S)

Some soldiers in the 134th Brigade Support Battalion, a Minnesota Army National Guard unit from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, have added extra protection to their Humvees, such as the Kevlar blankets wrapped around this gunner's shield.

Some soldiers in the 134th Brigade Support Battalion, a Minnesota Army National Guard unit from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, have added extra protection to their Humvees, such as the Kevlar blankets wrapped around this gunner's shield. (Anita Powell / S&S)

Some vehicles, like this one, show signs of wear, like a tear on the side above the tire.

Some vehicles, like this one, show signs of wear, like a tear on the side above the tire. (Anita Powell / S&S)

CONVOY SUPPORT CENTER CEDAR II, Iraq — Three years into the war in Iraq, some soldiers in southern Iraq still lack the most up-to-date armored vehicles that would better protect them on the most dangerous roads in the world.

Soldiers with the 134th Brigade Support Battalion, a Minnesota Army National Guard unit from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, often ride around the relatively tranquil rural area near Nasiriyah in trucks with minimal armor, most built before 1990.

Of the battalion’s fleet, more than 50 percent are older-model Humvees, said maintenance control officer 1st Lt. Dan Blasl.

The vehicles, made distinctive by their protruding windows, have half-inch-thick doors, little to no floor or roof armor and no extra protection around the gunner’s turret. Many of the battalion’s vehicles are a little battle scarred: dents and holes in doors, roofs, floors and on the side.

When in motion, the vehicles’ doors often rattle against the doorframes, swinging out to leave an inch of space between door and frame. The 2-inch-thick windows do the same.

Soldiers in the battalion universally complained about their less-than-perfect ride. Many, like Sgt. Mitchell Becker, 26, of Minneapolis, use the situation as a cause for morbid humor.

“It was brand new,” he joked, pointing to his vehicle, which bore a manufacturer’s mark from 1990 — “the last war in the desert.”

When asked how the vehicle would handle a roadside bomb, Becker chuckled.

“It would take it real well,” he said. “Right along with me.”

He said the Humvees require extra work.

“Our maintenance team works very hard to keep these vehicles on the road,” he said. “Long, long hours are needed to keep these vehicles on the road.”

The soldiers, who were originally issued updated, factory-armored Humvees, known as 1114s, said those were switched out earlier in the deployment for the older 1025s. Soldiers in the battalion said they were told they’d receive their own 1114s within months. Becker said he’s been asking about the replacements ever since.

“‘When are we getting our new vehicles?’” he said. “‘When are we getting our 1114s?’ Those type of questions.”

Lt. Col. Brian Olson, the battalion commander, said he anticipates replacing the battalion’s fleet of older Humvees with larger vehicles and with updated Humvees. The process should be completed by the end of July.

“The intent is to get those 1025s off the road,” he said. “They’re old and they’re tired. My big concern is to get these vehicles off the road.”

“I know there are some soldiers who have some concerns about their equipment,” he said. “I am worried about each one of my soldiers and their family members until I can get them back home safely.”

He disputed that the older vehicles were less safe than their factory-armored counterparts.

“Those vehicles are every bit as survivable in an [improvised explosive device] attack as an 1114,” he said. “When we put soldiers outside the wire, we give them every piece of equipment we’ve got.”

He added, “When I go [outside the wire], I ride in a 1025.”

Soldiers have taken it upon themselves to add protection, such as Kevlar floor mats in some vehicles and Kevlar blankets wrapped around some gunners’ turrets. Additionally, soldiers said, the vehicles are equipped with electronic defenses.

“I’ll feel safer when we get new ones,” said Sgt. Chris Woodrich, 26, of St. Cloud, Minn.

However, he said the trucks’ state doesn’t hinder his ability to do his job.

“I guess I’ve grown used to it,” he said. “With our job, we’re pretty much outside the wire all the time. I guess [military leaders] just figured we’re in a quieter part of Iraq.”

Although the Shiite-heavy area is fairly tranquil compared to other parts of Iraq, action has been increasing recently.

Two soldiers, Pvt. Benjamin Slaven of Plymouth, Neb., and Sgt. Brent Koch, of Morton, Minn., both 22, were killed this month after their vehicles were struck by roadside bombs north of Nasiriyah, near Diwaniyah. Both men were riding in updated vehicles at the time: Slaven in a newer, factory-armored Humvee and Koch in an armored cargo truck.

“It’s starting to get a little nerve-wracking as the action gets closer,” Woodrich said.

Sgt. Kelly Hagan, 34, said he is less worried about himself than he is about his colleagues who run convoy-security missions as far north as Baghdad.

“We’re [in the] south so it’s not that bad,” he said. “I feel bad for the guys who are going up north.”

Staff Sgt. Raymond Knapp, 45, of Robinsdale, Minn., agreed that the security situation is fairly mild.

“We don’t need it around here if all they do is throw rocks at you because you don’t give them water,” he said, referring to a recent spate of rock-throwing by local children.

That said, soldiers universally expressed a desire for new trucks.

“I was in [Operation] Desert Storm,” said Sgt. Deforis Nash, 37, of Coon Rapids, Minn. “These are the same trucks we used in Desert Storm, minus the armor. “We have asked for new ones. They have heard our concerns. They do have some allocated for us.”

When asked how he feels about his current ride, Nash raised his hands resignedly and pointed at his truck.

“I can’t lie about it,” he said. “They’re not very safe. They’re not very sturdy. But we’re doing what we can.”

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