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Armored Trucks Shield Marines From Taliban Bombs

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Armored Trucks Shield Marines From Taliban Bombs

Afghanistan

Armored Trucks Shield Marines From Taliban Bombs

Armored Trucks Shield Marines From Taliban Bombs

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/124527137/124537412" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Marines load up their mine-resistant armored truck in Marjah, Afghanistan. i

Men from the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment load up their mine-resistant armored truck for another day of convoy duty in Marjah, Afghanistan. The truck is brand new, because their previous one was destroyed by a homemade bomb. All the crew members walked away safely, protected by the truck's armored cabin. Corey Flintoff/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Corey Flintoff/NPR
Marines load up their mine-resistant armored truck in Marjah, Afghanistan.

Men from the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment load up their mine-resistant armored truck for another day of convoy duty in Marjah, Afghanistan. The truck is brand new, because their previous one was destroyed by a homemade bomb. All the crew members walked away safely, protected by the truck's armored cabin.

Corey Flintoff/NPR

The shooting is largely over in the Marjah area of southern Afghanistan that was recaptured by U.S. and Afghan forces last month. But a deadly threat remains: homemade bombs.

Taliban fighters have seeded the area with thousands of IEDs, and U.S. and NATO convoys run the risk of hitting one or more of them every time they patrol.

Mine-resistant armored trucks have reduced the casualties from these attacks, and many crews have survived, uninjured and in surprisingly good humor. While the latest generation of the truck — known as the M-ATV — isn't exactly a comfortable ride, it's turning out to be much safer than the armored Humvees it is replacing in Afghanistan.

Marine Chief Warrant Officer Joshua Smith was the commander of one vehicle whose crew walked away from a potentially deadly hit.

"We found a monster IED that day," says Smith, referring to the improvised explosive device that destroyed his armored truck.

Smith is a gunnery officer for the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment in Marjah. His truck was leading the convoy when it hit what the Marines estimate was at least 70 pounds of homemade explosives buried in the road.

Surviving The Blast

"During the blast, it launched our truck up into the air. The back rear tire went into the hole, threw us down to the ground," Smith says. "The cabin filled with dust everywhere; we couldn't really see anything."

Oddly though, Smith says he didn't really hear anything much, either.

"Initially when the blast went, it was surprisingly quiet," Smith says. "The vehicle inside — if you ever get in one — it's very quiet. Just the initial shock of the truck lifting up, everybody who was in there, to include the gunner, we all lifted up out of our seats. Luckily, we were all wearing our seat belts."

As the dust began to clear, Smith says the first thing he heard was radio calls from the trucks behind, asking if the crew was safe.

"The first thing I did was I started looking, looking for my Marines and my crew," he adds. "And the first thing I saw them doing was doing a knuckle bump with each other and laughing."

The Marines didn't laugh quite so hard when they got out of the truck and saw what had hit them.

"The whole front left end of the vehicle, it disintegrated — the springs, the wheel. I actually saw the tire," Smith says. "It was about 200 meters up the road from us. The hood disintegrated."

'Sorrrry, Taxpayers'

In fact, Smith says, the only thing left of the front end was parts of the engine. The vehicle is designed so that parts of the front can come apart in an explosion, while the armored cabin remains intact. The M-ATV is one type in a class of military vehicles called MRAP — mine-resistant ambush-protected.

Smith, who read up on the specs of his truck, just as any new car buyer might, says it was an expensive couple of seconds.

"It is $1.4 million," he says. That's the cost of the vehicle fully loaded with all its electronics and safety options.

"The base price is, if I'm not mistaken, $437,000, so when you burn through one of these, you're kind of, 'Oooh, hah, sorrrry, taxpayers, I really am, but I'm going to need another one,' " Smith laughs.

The truck he is riding in now is brand new. And he might sound a little sheepish about the damages, but Smith says his earlier truck did what it was supposed to do — saved the lives of its crew.

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