Axe to Navistar: I Hate Your Blast-Resistant Vehicle


Categorie: Afghanistan, Bombs, David Axe, Vehicles |
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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.


12 Responses to “Axe to Navistar: I Hate Your Blast-Resistant Vehicle”

  1. Cunninglinguine says:

    I got a chance to explore an MRAP at an air show last October. I was (figuratively) struck by all the hard, pointy edges inside the crew compartment, and brought it up with one of the soldiers working at the demo, a staff sergeant who’d done several tours Over There. He didn’t really have a reply, just sort of nodded and looked away, like he was embarrassed. I think he had essentially the same assessment of the vehicle as you, David, though he didn’t (couldn’t) say it out loud.

  2. Dave Narby says:

    What kind of a monumental dumbass builds a vehicle that is going to experience a lot of agitation driving down undeveloped roads with an interior compartment full of sharp edges?

    Oh… One that is contracted and overseen by the US government. Silly me for asking!

  3. Brian Black says:

    Perhaps they skipped the newsletter in preference of printing a few choice quotes in the MaxxPro sales brochure.

    “I’ll ride in a MaxxPro — but never voluntarily”

    That would make an excellent company tag-line.

  4. Moose says:

    The MRAPs, all of them, were cranked out at breakneck speed as the Army and Marines rushed to field a vehicle more survivable than the Humvee. I’m really distressed by rumblings that the Army and Marines might keep them around long-term instead of seeking better solutions.

  5. Onslo says:

    At least you are safe for snipers, right.

    How does the Boxer interior look like? I see sharp edges.

  6. tony domzalski says:

    I would like to provide some comments from “The other side of the coin”. I am an active duty Master Sergeant for the United States Army Special Forces and currently serving in Afghanistan. I will not boast of the number of deployments I have been on, or my incredible array of knowledge of things big, small and every other which way. I’ll leave that to the Seasoned Journalists. I am always amused by the articles, comments and chronicles of war correspondents. I also like the frequent omnipotent insight they provide from there intensely long “war time experiences”. Mr. Axe and his article miss a few key points.
    The first thing I would like all to consider is the dynamic change in Insurgent Tactics in regard to the development and use of the “Improvised Explosive Device” since the inception of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our military forces ability to defeat an enemy force within hours and days has committed our enemy combatants to resort to the “Hit and Run” tactics and the use of IED’s as their only viable method of confronting coalition. The evolution of the IED within the past 10 years is comparable of going from the Stone Age to sending a person to the moon in 36 hours.
    I would also like to highlight the difficulty in dealing with the immense array of IED’s, and our ability to deal with them. During the initial phases of the Iraq conflict, we (The US and Coalition forces) were able to quickly implement technologies to mitigate the use and effects of their remote controlled, command executed and pressure activated bombs. For every action there is a reaction. As our knowledge and tactics improved, so did our enemies ability to create and utilize increasingly effective and lethal IED’s and the tactics to go along with them.
    Although the Mine Resistant Vehicle is not a completely new concept (South Africa has been dealing with this issue for a long time), It is new to the US Military, those departments that research and develop equipment for the Department of Defense, and the physical and monetary systems available to field new equipment based on the theoretical and ever changing tactics used with the employment of IED’s.
    Today we have numerous Mine Resistant vehicles and numerous variants of these vehicles at our disposal to combat the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Everyone must remember that these vehicles, just like every other piece of equipment or tactic, is just one tool in an array of tools that need to be used to be successful on today’s battlefield. These vehicles are like nothing else ever created. They cost nearly a million dollars each. The cost of the IED’s our enemies are producing is somewhere in the range of a Whopper Combo meal at Burger King. Reality favors the hand of the insurgents in this regard. It’s much easier to make a new bomb and a technique to employ it versus the astronomical research, development and monetary issues in creating an entirely new line of MRAP type vehicle to combat the latest IED.
    These vehicles also provide several benefits to the soldiers on the battlefield that we have not had before. We now have advanced automated weapons systems and optical systems that can see our enemies nearly anywhere, day, night, or hiding behind a tree. These vehicles also give us the ability to talk to each other through means not capable on foot and the ability to know where all of us are on the battlefield at the glance of the screen.
    Mr. Axe’s own comment is at the heart of the point he fails to understand. In all of the “Two” IED experiences he has encountered NO ONE DIED. The vehicle did what it was supposed to do. It is designed for war and designed to keep people alive to the best ability of the people who created it, based on the information they had at that particular time. These vehicles are cramped. They do have lots of sharp edges. These vehicles also provide us an unparallel ability to locate, track and destroy our adversaries to the likes never seen before. If Mr. Axe is looking for a comfortable ride, the next time he is in AFG, I’ll see to it gets a Cadillac to ride in before I take him out on patrol. After all, I’d hate for our prized journalists to be uncomfortable in a war zone.

  7. David Axe says:


    We know all of this. But thanks for the reminder.

    As for my “incredible array of knowledge” … I never claimed to be the world’s foremost expert on MRAPs or IEDs. But I was asked to answer questions, and I did — as honesty as I could.

    I do, however, disagree with your assertion that MRAPs provide U.S. forces “unparallel (sic) ability to locate, track and destroy our adversaries to the likes never seen before.” MRAPs are basically battle taxis, and their extensive use limits where and how fast U.S. troops can move. They make U.S. movements fairly predictable, as well. They are not optimized for finding and tracking foot-bound insurgents. It’s not for no reason that American infantry dismount as frequently as they can while on a road patrol. Inside an MRAP, they just can’t see all that great, even with a CROWS or some other optical system.

    And thanks for the long, sarcasm-free comment! You sure do have a lot of time on your hands over there in Afghanistan!



  8. steve bridges says:

    Let me begin with a nice big “Fuck You” to David Axe, I wish him muffled scream Prison Rape, genital herpes, and an entire day of Lifetime Television.

    I detest nothing more than a combat tourist with an agenda, false sense of entitlement, poor attitude, refusal to conform to our SOP’s, or lofty opinions. As shit goes, you are introduced to “news media” and are greeted with feeble rapport attempts coupled with silent judgement of the military while we keep him and his naive crew alive in the “hot zone”, or other assorted news media coined terms for areas that summarily suck donkey cock, ie, filled with IED’s, SAF, and other lethal weaponry employed by talented and determined enemy, of which, I respect more than this felonious cock-sucker.

    I will agree that I would rather be on foot than in an MRAP or any other tracked, or armored vehicle which is painted desert color and sounds like a freight train even when idling…however, I will fully accept the cramped, smelly quarters which has time and again protected my fragile body from military and commercial grade high explosives. I wish the burden of discomfort versus family members mourning the loss of my life, or hearing of a friends wife eventually leaving him because he cannot physical perform his duties as a husband to her anymore because he lost his genitals in a poorly armored Level II UAH (saddest story you have never heard, nor want to ever hear) following an IED explosion.

    My life and those of many my friends have been saved by those big fat ugly loud cramped vehicles, designed for one reason, to enshroud those passengers with previously unprecedented HE/Vapor inversion/ protection. Yes I would rather be on foot, always, however, I’ve yet to encounter a situation where I would be ok-conducting a two week extended mission in a 50 square mile OP box only on foot, oh by the way, carry on your back your crew served, food, comm gear, rockets, ammo cache, maps, and water.

    David Axe, for your arrogance and general faggotry, I award you zero points, your mother should have swallowed you. I wish an MRAP failed you. Fucking POG.

    Semper Fi


    -Source, current resident of Sangin Afghanistan fresh off an MRAP adventure, active 8-year Marine Corps Special Operations Officer, 4 tours OIF/OEF.

  9. David Axe says:

    Mr. Steve Bridges,

    Wow. You’re a model American. I hope you’re proud of yourself.


  10. John Lawes says:

    “Although the Mine Resistant Vehicle is not a completely new concept (South Africa has been dealing with this issue for a long time), It is new to the US Military…”

    Which asks the question, why did the DoD re-invent the wheel instead of buying the South African models off-the-shelf? One would assume that the SADF has had plenty of time to work out the “sharp-interior-corners-designed-to-bust-you-in-the-head” problem, among others. Hmmm.

    And now I’m gonna put on my “retired platoon sergeant” hat to chat with steve and tony. Hey, troops, the man is doing his job. He’s describing his experiences. You got better ones? Get you own blog and tell us. Pissing in his coffee doesn’t make yours taste any better, or help the civilians reading this blog understand the whole MRAP business any better, either, except to make us GIs (or Marines) look like a bunch of pissy, short-fused, arrogant, “You fucking civilian journalists are just to goddamn stupid to breathe” assholes.

    I never liked embeds, because I think that most war reportage is just a way to give the civvies some war porn. But attacking the man for giving his honest opinion, and in the contemptuous way you’re doing it, makes US look bad, not him.

    EOM, out.

  11. steve bridges says:

    Not worried about looking bad, this was addressed to him personally. No relativity to his point of view–it was his weak stab at humor at our expense, not yours, and colors the view of whoever reads this shit. That’s no job, war porn is right. A little too busy to get my ‘own blog’ partner.

  12. Terry says:

    Mr Axe was asked for his opinion and he gave it. the profanity used by Mr Bridges is shameful and uncalled for. Also, considering the large number of the vehicle ordered over a long period of time it would seem prudent that Navistar address issues such as sharp edges. Makes one wonder why. Perhaps there was not enough strong feed back from the troops. It could be if the feed back were similar to Mr Axe, something would have been done about this problem.

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