During natural disasters, the vehicles can carry up to six civilians each. During flooding, they can drive through 4 to 5 feet of water. During riots or urban fighting, they’re small and nimble enough to fit on city streets.
YAKIMA — Washington National Guard’s 81st Brigade is in the midst of switching from tanks to lighter-armored Stryker vehicles, which the Guard says are better for quickly moving through the roads and terrain of Washington, officials said Tuesday during a demonstration.
“The whole idea behind the Strykers,” said Capt. Kelly Sowder, a new-equipment training officer in charge at the military’s Yakima Training Center, “is speed and agility.”
The Stryker vehicles, which started arriving from Hawaii in March and will all be in Washington by September, have eight large wheels and may be mounted with a .50-caliber machine gun. During natural disasters, such as earthquakes, they can carry civilians to safety. During flooding, they can drive through 4 to 5 feet of water. During riots or incidents of unrest, they’re small and nimble enough to fit on city streets.
“They’re the premier fighting platform,” said Lt. Col. Kristin Derda, a commander of the Guard’s 181st Brigade Support Battalion, which provides logistical and medical support for the 81st.
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The Guard’s soldiers are training with the new vehicles, which involves weeks of driving and weapons drills. Journalists received a preview of the vehicles in Yakima on Tuesday. Afterward, they saw a Guard “sling-load” training exercise, where soldiers hooked up nets of boxed food to a hovering Chinook helicopter for delivery to a National Guard unit in Umatilla, Oregon.
The Oregon and California National Guard also will be receiving Stryker vehicles from Hawaii.
Each Stryker cost about $2 million to build originally. They were introduced in the early 2000s as a new generation of troop carriers and were battle-tested in both urban combat zones in Mosul, Iraq, and remote parts of Afghanistan. They were designed to provide better protection against roadside bombs, and later models were outfitted with V-shaped bottoms to deflect blasts. The Stryker fleet the Guard is receiving doesn’t have that modification.
The 81st Brigade is the second National Guard unit in the United States to acquire Strykers after Pennsylvania, according to a National Guard spokesman. They are also used by active-duty units at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The soldiers’ training involves weeks of studying the vehicles on paper, learning to drive them with yellow “student driver” signs plastered on the front, maintenance and shooting from them, according to Sowder.
This is the first time National Guard Spc. Tyler Souders has driven a combat vehicle.
“For a lot of us, this is the first time even touching a Stryker,” Souders said.