Civilians Test Out New Rollover Trainer
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait, April 25, 2006 Civilian opinion leaders visiting here today got to take a whirl -- literally -- in a new training device that's teaching troops how to survive a rollover in top-heavy up-armored vehicles.
JCOC participants look on as the Humvee Egress Assistance Trainer - or HEAT - simulates a Humvee rollover at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, April 25. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Larry Chambers, USCG
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Participants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, traveling through the U.S. Central Command operating area to observe military operations and meet troops, got an introduction today to the Humvee Egress Assistance Trainer, or HEAT.
The trainer was developed and built here, with the first training on it offered in February to help reduce rollovers and fatalities, Army Lt. Gen. Steve Whitcomb, commander of 3rd U.S. Army and Coalition Forces Land Component Command, told JCOC participants.
About 250 U.S. troops have been severely injured in rollovers since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March 2003, with 90 of them dying from their injuries. Fourteen of those involved drownings, officials here said.
Intent on cutting these losses, Whitcomb got the idea for the HEAT after seeing a similar model at Fort McPherson, Ga. He got CFLCC staffers to build a similar model, taking a scrapped Humvee cab and mounting it to an elevated M-1 tank engine maintenance stand. That, in turn, was mounted to an M-870A1 trailer so it could be transported to troop bases.
The whole project cost just $10,000 apiece, and CFLCC now has three models with plans to add a fourth to its inventory soon.
Multinational Corps Iraq plans to build 17 HEATs to train its troops, said Army Capt. Brenda Rudyk, a force health-protection officer for 1st Medical Brigade.
Nearly 1,000 soldiers have already received training on the HEAT, and Whitcomb's goal is to ensure every Humvee crew transiting through Kuwait gets the training before moving forward to Iraq or another forward location.
Crews training on the HEAT, and the JCOC participants who got a quick crash course on it today, don personal protective gear and Kevlar helmets and strap into the Humvee cabin. An operator flicks a switch to rotate the cabin to 10, 20, 35 degrees, and ultimately, to a full rollover so the crew is upside down.
"We're providing a hands-on, real experience in what troops can expect to happen in a combat environment," Whitcomb explained.
Experiencing a rollover, particularly in a combat environment, is confusing and downright scary, he told the group. "It's disorienting when you turn over and are locked into a seat belt," he said. The up-armored doors, that weigh 250 pounds apiece, are often jammed and always tough to open.
"Things look very different when you're upside down," agreed Army Lt. Winston Wilson, safety officer for the 143rd Transportation Command. "It gets very crowded in a hurry."
Army Lt. Col. Jay Paulus, safety officer for 143rd Transportation Command, told the JCOC participants the primary goal is to prevent rollovers in the first place. "But in the event of a roll, we want soldiers to know how to survive," he said.
Putting troops through the motions of a rollover, albeit it at a slower rate than often happens in real life, ensures they know what to do if they're in one and that they can exit the vehicle faster. And in a rollover situation, particularly one involving water, timing can be the critical life-or-death factor, he said.
Typically, an untrained crew takes a minute or more to exit their vehicle, Paulus said. But the fastest crew yet to go through HEAT training did it in just 14 seconds, he said.
In addition to saving lives, the HEATs build troops' confidence in their gear and teach them how to escape a vehicle if it rolls over, said Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael McGraw, from the 143rd Transportation Command. "The benefit of the training is that is shows soldiers a seat belt will work and save their lives," he said, noting that most fatalities occurred when troops weren't wearing a seat belt.
In the event of a rollover, the training teaches troops how to brace themselves and hold on as they roll, then how to safely get out of the vehicle and ensure all their fellow crewmembers make it safely out too.
"When you get rain and there's oil and sand on the roads, it gets really slick," McGraw said. "You end up with a real skating rink, and this is teaching people what to do if they encounter that."
The HEAT has already proven itself to be a lifesaver, Army Maj. Bill Kehoe, of the 377th Theater Support Command, told JCOC group. A Georgian infantry soldier who trained on the device experienced a real-life rollover just a few days later, walking away from the incident with nothing but bumps and bruises, he said.
Another yet-unconfirmed success story credits the HEAT with saving the life of a U.S. soldier in Iraq. Kehoe is following up on its validity. "We're tracking everybody who goes through the training" to check on their safety records, he said.
Lynn Korwatch, director of the San Francisco Bay Marine Exchange, was among the first JCOC participants to try out the HEAT. "This is like Disneyland and the Magic Mountain!" she exclaimed, then declared it "a real 'e-ticket' ride."
Dr. Allison Rosenberg, an associate vice chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the trainer reinforced the importance of staying securely seated during a rollover.
"You have to use your hands to brace yourself, and you learn that the seat belt is critical," she said. "The concept of going through all of that while under hostile fire and with explosions around you is really amazing."
"It was great!" declared Eugene Huang, a visiting scholar at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. "It did exactly what they said it would -- give you a real sense of trust in your equipment."
Henry Ford, of the Ford Motor Company, whose family has been in the automotive business for five generations, said he was surprised at how disorienting it felt to experience a rollover personally. "Clearly, this shows that the more practice you have, the more prepared you are if it happens and the more likely you are to know how to react," he said.
Participants in the JCOC program are business, civic, community and academic leaders from around the country who are spending the week observing U.S. Central Command at work. This JCOC trip is the first to the Middle East since the Defense Department started the program in 1948 to help educate civilian "movers and shakers" about the military.