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Charleston Airmen supply CENTCOM first M-ATV shipment

by Staff Sgt. Daniel Bowles
437th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

9/30/2009 - CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (AFNS) -- Charleston Airmen began the distribution Sept. 30 of a new version of the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle from here.

The MRAP All-Terrain Vehicles, or M-ATVs, were the first to be delivered to the Afghanistan theater for operational use, and many more are to come said, David Hansen, deputy program manager with the Joint MRAP Vehicle Program in Quantico, Va.

The distribution officially began when two brand-new M-ATVs departed the base bound for Afghanistan in the early morning hours aboard a C-17 Globemaster III from McChord AFB, Wash.

From now and through December, between 300 and 500 M-ATVs each month are expected to be airlifted into Afghanistan via Charleston AFB, he said.

Although aircraft from many bases will be utilized to transport the vehicles, taking on the brunt of the loading operation will be the Airmen from the 437th Aerial Port Squadron here.

"We'll be busy," said Lt. Col. Robert Neal, 437th APS commander. "I always emphasize to the folks who are loading these ... you've got to realize you are making a difference in people's lives. These vehicles are designed for people to survive the improvised explosive device attacks, and every time we send a vehicle over, that just means a better chance [of survival] for troops over there in the area of responsibility."

Despite the surge of new MRAPs, Colonel Neal said it will be business as usual for his squadron. The 437th APS has shipped more than 3,700 MRAP vehicles to both Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, he said.

"Charleston AFB has been the sole airlift shipper of those vehicles, and we are continuing that trend with this brand new vehicle we're sending over there," said Colonel Neal.

The deployment of the M-ATVs is planned to occur in much the same way as with the previous versions of MRAP vehicles, said Mr. Hansen. The goal will be to utilize airlift in the initial phase of deployment to deliver the vehicles as quickly as possible and fill the "pipeline," after which shipments by sea will begin.

The time savings is immense for airlift, he said. Transporting a load of M-ATVs by aircraft can be accomplished in a day, where sealift would require approximately 26 days.

Transport by sea is not scheduled to begin until the end of 2009, he said, and for the time being, Charleston AFB will be the sole air distribution center for the overseas shipments.

The vehicle's design and production occurred after an urgent request was placed for a new type of vehicle with a design which was more suited to the rugged terrain of Afghanistan. The previous versions of MRAP vehicles were better suited for operations in Iraq, said Mr. Hansen, which has road systems more advanced than those of Afghanistan.

The response to the request was the creation of the M-ATV. The design, production, testing and delivery of the vehicle occurred all within a year of receiving the request.

The new vehicle weighs in at approximately half the weight of an average MRAP vehicle, and is 10,000 pounds lighter than the previous low-weight MRAP vehicle.

After production, the vehicles are delivered to the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Charleston to be outfitted with advanced electronic components. Once installations are completed, the vehicles are transported to the base for airborne deployment.

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