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Soldiers learn to drive MRAPs before deploying
Oregon Guardsmen training on Fort Stewart
soldiers in back
Soldiers stare out the back of an MRAP at the rain. - photo by Photo by Frenchi Jones
Spc. Ryan Edwards drives through a red light.  
He has driven before, but never anything as large and heavy as what he’s driving now.
“Just relax and go 15 miles per hour,” says a soldier seated to Edward’s right.
Then it starts to rain.
A few miles down the road, the rain turns to snow.
Edwards loses control and his vehicle skids and collides with another parked on the side of the road.
“It’s nothing like driving a real vehicle,” Edwards said after getting out of the driver’s seat.
On Thursday, Edwards and a handful of soldiers from the 1-186th Infantry Battalion, 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team got the opportunity to virtually drive a simulated mine resistant ambush protected vehicle, also known as an MRAP.
The Oregon National Guard unit is currently training at Fort Stewart for a deployment to Iraq, and trainers say the exercise is crucial to their training mission.
“Sixty-one percent of all the fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan are due to vehicle rollovers. Ninety percent of accidents are due to driver mistakes,” training specialist Wally Hopson said. “The Army developed this program to help cut that down a bit, and not a single soldier that we have trained has had a rollover.”
The MRAP is one of a family of armored fighting vehicles designed to protect soldiers from improvised explosive attacks and roadside ambushes they could be exposed to in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hopson said the simulators allow soldiers to get a feel for the magnitude and power of the vehicle before they get in theater.
“These vehicles are huge and they take some getting used to,” he said.
During the training exercise, soldiers spend four hours driving the 16-ton vehicles.
Two hours are spent in “downtown America” and two are spent driving down the crowded and, at times, hostile streets of Baghdad.
As each soldier drives, the course gets harder and harder, the streets fill with pedestrians, animals and explosions.
Nearby, a trainer with the 3rd Battalion, 345th CSS Regiment, 188th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, stands yelling, “Watch out. You just ran over a dog. You’re under attack.”
“You have to put the soldier under stress,” Master Sgt. Patrick Harmon said. “They could be exposed to that and even more in Iraq. The guys have to be alert and be able make quick decisions.”
Pvt. Isaac Yokum is in Bravo Co., 1-186th, 41st IBCT.
He said he will definitely remember the experience when he is deployed to Iraq.
“It gives you a good ground base,” he said.
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