After I wrote about being bombed while riding in a MaxxPro Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle in Afghanistan, a representative of Navistar, the vehicle’s manufacturer, emailed me to ask if I would mind answering a few questions for the company newsletter.
The exchange is copied below. Since I never heard back from the guy, I’m assuming he never printed my responses.
Q: Can you give me a quick summary of your experience with our trucks? I’d like to find out about where you’ve ridden in them, where you were going, what was the mission, etc.
A: I’ve ridden in almost every MRAP variant — and other mine-resistant vehicles — in the course of seven years reporting from Iraq, Afghanistan and across Africa.
Q: If you want to add something about the ride/comfort (lack thereof) please do; I’d like to know what people think of our vehicles overall.
A: MRAPs are not comfortable. In fact, I hate them — not only for their cramped interiors and many sharp metal edges and the way the seat cushions get flattened or their frames bent after repeated use, but also because MRAPs and other Army vehicles are basically bomb magnets. Which is, of course, why International and other designers produced the MRAP in the first place — to make it more likely the occupants of an ambushed vehicle will survive the attack. I’ve been bombed or nearly bombed in MRAPs twice since 2009, and while I’m grateful to have emerged mostly unscathed, I’ve learned that in a warzone I’d rather walk 15 miles up a mountain with a rucksack on my back than ride two miles in an MRAP or any other vehicle.
Q: You’ve been in our trucks during an firefight and an IED attack, can you tell me a little bit about those? You can pick to talk about both, or just one, up to you.
A: In Afghanistan, I was attacked while riding in a MaxxPro belonging to the 10th Mountain Division twice: once in 2009, again two years later. In 2009 in Baraki Barak, an IED destroyed the MaxxPro behind mine in a convoy and then the Taliban opened fire with rockets and machine guns. The Americans and their attached Afghan National Army fired back — the Americans from their MRAPs, the Afghans from their Nissan pickup trucks. The firefight lasted 10 minutes or so before the Apache helicopter showed up and ended things rather quickly.
In 2011, I was in the rearmost seat of a MaxxPro on a patrol outside the village of Pakhab-e-Shana when a large IED exploded underneath the front of the vehicle, destroying everything but the crew compartment. Five soldiers were hurt — two of them badly. I and one other soldier, both of us sitting in the rear, were mostly unhurt. One officer was injured because he had not buckled his safety belt and flew around inside the compartment as the blast lifted us in the air and threw us 15 feet down the road.
Q: What did it feel like inside the truck?
A: A loud sound, a violent motion, dust in the air, impact as we struck the ground, then incredible silence … followed by screaming.
Q: Did you feel safe inside the truck? Did the crew?
A: Prior to the attack, I felt safe in MRAPs. Today I do not feel safe in any Army vehicle in a combat zone. I feel safer on foot.
Q: After all that you’ve been through, would you ride in another MaxxPro? What things would you change about it? What do the soldiers say about the MaxxPro?
A: I’ll ride in a MaxxPro or other MRAP when required to do so — but never voluntarily.
Q: Most days, people at Navistar don’t get the opportunity to interact with their customers and it’s easy to forget that people are counting on our trucks everyday overseas. If you could tell the people at Navistar anything about their truck or their work, what would it be?
A: Your trucks will keep people alive when they are bombed, but the vehicles also attract attacks. It’s a Catch-22 situation. You need safer vehicles like the MaxxPro because you’re riding in vehicles in the first place.