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Stryker ambulance to roll out next year

by Karen Fleming-Michael

FORT DETRICK, Md. (Army News Service, Sept. 20, 2002) - Variants of the Stryker family are making debut rollouts on a continual basis, and the medical variant will be the fifth of the nine to arrive at Fort Lewis, Wash., early next year.

The reconnaissance variant is the next vehicle scheduled to arrive at Fort Lewis. It's expected to roll out in October, officials said. The infantry carrier, commander's vehicle and mortar carrier have already touched down at Lewis. The other variants are: the fire support vehicle, anti-tank missile-guided vehicle, engineer vehicle and nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance vehicle, and then there's the mobile gun system.

The medical variant of the Stryker Interim Armored Vehicle will roll off the assembly line at Anniston, Ala., at the end of September. The vehicles will then head to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., for tests, including live fire, reliability, availability, maintainability, form, fit and function. In February or March 2003, the vehicles will head to the Stryker Brigade at Fort Lewis, officials said.

"One of the promises we make as a service is that we take care of our people. You don't want to be in the position of having to explain why we didn't have medical support available when a soldier was hurt," said Steve Reichard, U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity's product manager for the medical variant of the Stryker.

The medical evacuation vehicle can carry four litter patients or six ambulatory patients with a crew of three medics.

"The important thing is it has the mobility and ability to keep up with the forces. It lets us actually be there when we're needed," Reichard said. "In Desert Storm, we were routinely one to two hours behind the forces."

Though each Stryker variant can sustain speeds up to 60 miles per hour, has robust armor protection, a central tire inflation system and shares the same chassis and repair parts, the medical variant boasts distinct differences.

When compared to its brothers, the medical variant has a higher roof.

"The headroom isn't so much to let the medics stand up in it, but to get space above the litter patients. If something happens and the medic needs to get to the patient to do CPR, apply a pressure bandage or start an IV, there's room to do that," Reichard said.

An automatic litter-lifting capability will improve on the current M-113 ambulance, which will continue to accompany heavy fighting forces, Reichard said.

In the M-113, "the medic is hunched over, trying to carry and lift a litter from an awkward posture," Reichard said. "(With the Stryker), all the medics have to do is carry the litter to the back of the vehicle, load it on a tray, push it in and the vehicle will slide the litter over to the side then raise it up."

The Stryker's interior also accommodates more medical supplies and equipment than the M-113, as well as some crew gear. "That's not to say everything can fit inside it, because it can't, but critically needed items will be more accessible," Reichard said.

An additional improvement is the communications equipment on the medical variant. The vehicle is equipped with the same communications package as the rest of the force, which will give medics the situational awareness to know where everyone else on the battlefield is so they can get to casualties faster, Reichard said.

The medical evacuation vehicle is one of the lightest Stryker variants, a requirement for deploying it on an Air Force C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. "When you think about it, it doesn't have the gun, it doesn't have the ammunition. It's a pretty empty vehicle until you get people in it," Reichard said.

There's a set list of what has to go inside the vehicle, and it all has to fit somehow," Reichard said. "We're doing the best we can to make sure everything fits in the most ergonomically sound way that we can. The interior layout of medical and support equipment, interior lighting, litter lift and an oxygen distribution system were just a few of the features that were orchestrated, according to the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity 2002 annual report.

Although abundant in features, the medical Stryker's developers are planning additional upgrades, Reichard said. For example, planners wanted the vehicle to have air conditioning but funding didn't permit it.

"We had to pre-plan product improvements because of funding availability," Reichard said. "So we had to figure out what we needed to trade off and what we needed to fight for. Our goal was to try to get the vehicle as good as we could get it within the budget we were given."

(Editor's note: Karen Fleming-Michael is a member of the Standard newspaper staff at Fort Detrick, Md.)

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