BOURNE, Mass. – It is not something you see every day; an 8’5’’ high armored vehicle stretching 20 feet in length with an enclosed rotating turret bearing a 40 mm grenade launcher, a .50 caliber machine gun and a bright yellow sign bearing the words STUDENT DRIVER hanging between the headlights.
“It is an advanced vehicle system,” said Lt. Col. Brett Conaway, “(An) incredible force protection platform.”
It is designed to safely carry its three man crew anywhere; through 5 feet of water, the roads of Afghanistan or a radioactive landscape.
“They are … primarily designed for hostile environments,” said Conaway.
It is officially known as the M117 Armored Security Vehicle and is a tactical vehicle mainly used by the military police. While the vehicle first entered military service in the late 1990’s, they were relatively few in number. In March 2003 there were less than 60 in the entire Army. It wasn’t until recently that the number of M117’s increased to the point that the vehicles could begin to be sent to the National Guard. The 211th Military Police Battalion, commanded by Conaway, recently received a shipment of the vehicles and for the past few weeks has slowly been training its Soldiers on how to safely operate them. A small group of Soldiers were selected for an intensive two- week long instructor’s course that was conducted in and around Devens, Mass. Another group of Soldiers spent their annual training learning the basics of the vehicle and practicing their skills.
For some of the Soldiers in the battalion, this was their first experience with the vehicle. Spc. Matthew Florindo, a military policeman, 772nd Military Police Company, 211th MP Bn., had driven HMMVE’s before, but had never driven the M117 before AT; he is one of the student drivers
“So far I like it,” said Florindo, a native of Wareham, Mass., “It’s a lot different in handling … as long as you pay attention to the material that they give you, it’s easy to drive.”
While it may be easy to drive, some characteristics of the vehicle make it a challenge; the front windshield is divided into two windows each 6.5 inch high by 21 inch long and a 7 inch high by 15 inch long window on the drivers and passenger’s side. These windows are considerably smaller than your average passenger car, let alone a HMMVE or a MRAP. Another factor is the fact that the vehicle weighs in at over 32,500 pounds.
“All interstate … and every state road have weight limitations … especially bridges,” said Staff Sgt. She’lagh Dunbar, master driver, 211th MP Bn., “breaking distance is different as well, because the vehicle is so heavy.”
The manual for the vehicle states that if the ASV is driving on flat, dry pavement and is traveling at 50 mph, a distance of approximately 260ft. is needed before the vehicle comes to a complete stop.
It is important to remember that this vehicle is designed for convoy protection, area security and other wartime missions and that the Soldiers will be operating them as part of their training in the event of future possible deployments; the vehicle also has some capabilities that can make it a valuable asset in the event of a state emergency.
“One of the other benefits that this vehicle has is the ability to forge up to 60 in. of water,” said Spc. Joshua Slater, a military policeman, 772nd MP Co., 211th MP Bn.
With this ability, an ASV could rescue a person whose vehicle became stuck while they were trying to cross a flooded road.
“This thing can literally pull up next to somebody; somebody can climb on the top of it,” said Slater, a veteran of five deployments to Iraq.
The vehicle can climb over obstacles up to 22in. in height, drive up 60 degree inclines and in the event the vehicle becomes stuck somewhere, it can winch itself out.
“Being somebody that’s driven everything from a HMMVE, to … the biggest MRAP …to the ASV,” said Slater, “with the added protection … the mobility … the way that this vehicle could go just about anywhere … I would pick an ASV over anything.”