Stryker brigade to deploy to Afghanistan without Strykers
The Army’s first Stryker brigade is about to become the first of its type to go to war without the marquee vehicle it helped develop a decade ago.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, is readying for a deployment to Afghanistan in December, and it will leave its fleet of roughly 300 eight-wheeled Strykers at home.
Instead, about 3,000 soldiers from the brigade will drive a mix of armored vehicles that are already in Afghanistan, such as the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) and its all-terrain variety, the M-ATV, Stars and Stripes reports.
Lt. Col. Wayne Brewster, the brigade’s deputy commander, said his soldiers are prepared for the change.
“It’s a Stryker brigade, but the way we look at it is it’s an infantry brigade,” he said at a news briefing Tuesday. “The strength of the brigade is the soldier.”
The 3rd Brigade has deployed to Iraq three times since 2003, each time using Strykers. This is to be its first deployment to Afghanistan.
The Army has only enough Strykers in Afghanistan for about one brigade. They’re in use by the Alaska-based 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division. That brigade left Fort Wainwright for a yearlong deployment in April.
Meanwhile, the Army has about 20,000 MRAPs and M-ATVs in Afghanistan. The MRAP was developed in 2007 to provide better protection against lethal improvised explosive devices; the M-ATV followed in 2008 as an MRAP model for Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain.
The 3rd Brigade’s first mission to Iraq, from November 2003 to November 2004, was credited with demonstrating the Stryker vehicle’s effectiveness in combat. President George W. Bush praised the Stryker units as “ghost riders” that hit their targets so quickly their enemies couldn’t see them coming.
The brigade last fought in Iraq in the summer of 2010. The Army put it on a path for its upcoming mission last summer, when commanders in Afghanistan evaluated their needs for the mandated reduction in the number of American troops there. The 3rd Brigade was chosen because it was close to being ready for a deployment, Army I Corps spokesman Chris Ophardt said.
“Our timeline did not change,” Brewster said, meaning the brigade was expected to be ready for a deployment by this fall. “What changed was the Army needed a brigade for a specific” mission.
Brewster said soldiers in the 3rd Brigade “do not feel rushed” for the mission. They prepared for their deployment in August at California’s National Training Center, where they used Strykers.
This fall, drivers throughout the brigade are getting a condensed course on how to drive MRAPs and M-ATVs. Few of the vehicles are available for training because the Defense Department sent most of them directly to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Stryker soldiers at an off-road exercise Monday said they preferred their brigade’s original vehicles, but they’re getting used to the ones they’ll use in Afghanistan.
“I feel very confident that by the time we deploy, we’ll be up to snuff on all the vehicles,” said Pfc. Michael Mindt of the brigade’s 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment.
He particularly liked the M-ATV. It handled the off-road course well, with riders rarely feeling sharp turns and dives.
The MRAP, by contrast, is meant for paved roads. It lurched through the off-road course, and drivers had to turn carefully.
“It beats walking,” joked Sgt. 1st Class Paul Underkoffler, who managed the MRAP training for the 3rd Brigade. “They’re a good vehicle.”
Soldiers said they’ll miss the firepower they can bring with a Stryker. Those machines have four slats from which soldiers can shoot, as well as roof hatches for machine guns or grenade launchers.
The MRAPs and M-ATVs have one gun turret and no side slats for other weapons.
“Everyone has the same complaint – the only person who gets to fire is the gunner,” said Sgt. Justin Baker, 28, the 5th Battalion’s master driver. Baker led Monday’s training session.
Washington National Guard soldiers drove MRAPs on their last major deployment, to Iraq in 2008-09. They found the vehicle to be a safer option for the mission protecting convoys that year.
“They’re definitely a lot better than what we had available to us the first go around as far as force protection and saving soldiers’ lives,” said Lt. Col. Kevin McMahan of the Guard’s 81st Infantry Brigade, referring to the brigade’s first Iraq deployment in 2004-05.
MRAPs and M-ATVs are designed with a so-called “double V” hull that deflects the impact of roadside bombs.
The original flat-bottomed Strykers do not offer the same protection. The Army has commissioned a double V hull variety of Stryker vehicles, but only about 300 have been finished.
Lewis-McChord’s 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, became the first Stryker brigade to fight in Afghanistan when it deployed there in July 2009.
A Germany-based Stryker brigade followed it into Afghanistan, and it was replaced by the Alaska unit last year.
The 5th Brigade lost 37 soldiers to combat on its Afghanistan deployment, including seven in one incident in October 2009 when an improvised explosive blew up under a Stryker.
Brewster, the deputy commander, said the 3rd Brigade will deploy to southern Afghanistan and will work closely with Afghan security forces. He likened it to the training missions Stryker soldiers have done in Iraq in recent years.
HOW A STRYKER COMPARES WITH AN MRAP
Origin: First stationed at Fort Lewis in 2001 as an experimental medium-weight infantry vehicle.
Cost: About $2 million for the latest version.
Weight: 19 tons for basic infantry version, off the factory floor.
Speed: 62 mph.
Weapons: Mount for .50 caliber machine gun or automatic grenade launcher.
Capacity: Up to 11 soldiers.
Attributes: Eight wheels enable the Stryker to get back to base even after losing multiple tires.
Number in Afghanistan: Between 300 and 400.
Origin: Developed in 2007 specifically to reduce the threat of improvised explosives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Cost: About $1 million.
Weight: 14 tons or more.
Speed: 40 mph.
Armament: Turret-mounted machine gun.
Capacity: Up to six, plus a gunner.
Attributes: Different versions come equipped with gear to clear roads of explosives; mainly they’re used to transport troops safely.
Number in Afghanistan: More than 13,600.
Origin: Created in 2008 as an MRAP alternative for Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain.
Cost: About $1.4 million.
Weight: 12 tons.
Speed: 65 mph.
Armament: Turret-mounted machine gun.
Capacity: Up to four, plus a gunner.
Attributes: The M-ATV has the look and feel of an enhanced Humvee. It’s a relatively smooth ride off road, soldiers say.
Number in Afghanistan: More than 6,500.
Sources: Government Accountability Office, Congressional Research Service, Defense Department contracts.
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