A former Pekin woman is instrumental in helping replace the Humvee. She is in the Navy and stationed at the Pentagon. We talked to her about the vehicle and her experiences in Iraq.
A former Pekin woman returned from Iraq recently with good news for her bosses at the Pentagon: A new generation of combat vehicles is saving lives on the battlefield,
"The bottom line is the vehicles are survivable. People are living," Elaine McCusker said about the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, called MRAPs.
McCusker is a Pekin native and a graduate of Peoria Notre Dame High School and Illinois Central College as well as the University of Dallas. She is not in the military but serves as special assistant to the assistant secretary of the Navy.
She was sent to Iraq to observe how the MRAPs are performing and heard rave reviews from military personnel whose vehicles were attacked.
"The vehicles are being attacked and the people are surviving," she said. "We met a lot of people who were attacked. They love them."
Among those was a team of service members whose mission is to search for improvised explosives and to disarm them. The commander of that group told McCusker the MRAPs saved 36 lives in his company.
"(He said) they got blown up and they would have been killed," if they hadn’t been in the new armored vehicles, McCusker said. "I thought that was pretty significant."
McCusker, who now lives in northern Virginia, has spent nine months in her current position advising the assistant secretary of the Navy about the performance of the vehicles.
The MRAPs have a unique "V" shaped undercarriage, or "hull," a blast-resistant underbody and a raised chassis. They are designed to protect military personnel from mine blasts, improvised explosives, roadside bombs and direct-fire weapons, all of which have long been a problem in Iraq and Afghanistan and have accounted for numerous deaths.
Humvees that had no armor were being destroyed by roadside bombs, killing the troops inside. Congress provided funding to outfit some existing Humvees with armor plating.
Local troops who returned home told of re-enforcing Humvees themselves using plywood and other materials, calling the modifications "Menards armor."
"The Humvees were never really designed as a combat vehicle," McCusker said.
The trade off has always been between protection and mobility when it comes to military vehicles, she said. Lightweight vehicles that need maneuverability are more vulnerable to attack than a heavily armored vehicle that moves much slower.
That’s why the new MRAPs will be replacing the Humvee in many cases, said McCusker, who also has worked with the Senate Armed Services Committee, served on Washington, D.C., think-tanks on foreign policy and worked as a congressional lobbyist.
There are currently about 6,400 MRAP vehicles on contract for production by February 2008 under a joint program involving different branches of the military. The government’s estimated cost for 8,000 vehicles is about $12.4 billion, including initial support, parts and transportation.
About 379 MRAP vehicles have been sent to Iraq so far under the joint program.
McCusker’s work with the new vehicles and the time she spent evaluating them in Iraq gave her a clear view of how the MRAPs can help leaders on the battlefield. "We have a much better understanding of what they need to know and what we need to provide them to have a successful mission," she said.
"This is just a project that everyone should be proud of," she said. "There’s few people these days that haven’t been touched by someone injured in Iraq."
Kevin Sampier can be reached at (309) 346-5300 or email@example.com.
Saving military lives
What: The new mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs, have a "V" shaped undercarriage, blast-resistant underbody and a raised chassis to protect military personnel from mine blasts, improvised explosives, roadside bombs and direct-fire weapons.
The cost: The price tag for 8,000 of the vehicles is about $12.4 billion.
How many: About 379 MRAPs have been sent to Iraq so far.
Being built: There are about 6,400 MRAPs on contract for production by February 2008.
A better choice: The new vehicles, in many cases, will replace Humvees, which have been criticized as insufficiently protected against battlefield weaponry.