By Air Force Master Sgt. Greg Rudl
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 12, 2008 - In war, they're called combat vehicles. But when Mother Nature strikes and people are stranded by flood waters, those big trucks with their big tires and high ground clearance get a different name. National Guard units in some states call them high-water vehicles. Others describe them as high-clearance or high-wheeled. But whatever the name, governors, adjutants general and other state military leaders want to know how many they have, especially when the waters rise.
During domestic response missions, the big trucks plow through high water to rescue residents, carry boats that also help rescue people, and bring food and water to the victims of calamities.
Just how vital are these big trucks to the Guard's domestic response missions?
-- As Hurricane Ike approached the Gulf Coast yesterday with predictions of five to 10 inches of rain, the Texas National Guard was assembling 900 personnel and 500 high-water vehicles in San Antonio for major search-and-rescue missions.
-- In August, Florida Army Guard soldiers drove a high-water vehicle through flooded roads in Osteen, Fla., searching for people needing assistance or evacuation due to the floodwaters from Tropical Storm Fay.
-- Missouri soldiers used high-water vehicles to deliver 11,520 meals to residents of flood-ravaged Iowa in June.
-- The National Guard from several states pre-positioned more than 3,800 high-water vehicles in and around New Orleans in late August as Hurricane Gustav approached.
-- When storms flooded Vernonia, Ore., in early December 2007, high-water vehicles were used to rescue hundreds of people.
-- When flooding hit Pennsylvania and New Jersey in June and July 2006, more than 1,000 Guard members used high-wheeled vehicles for water rescues, evacuations and other emergency operations along the Delaware River.
While as little as six inches of water can cause a car to lose control, and two feet can carry most cars away, most high-water vehicles can plow through several feet of water.
"The [light medium tactical vehicle] can carry up to 15 people and has a high ground clearance, which allows them operate in up to four feet of water," Army Lt. Col. Len Gratteri, a Delaware National Guard spokesman, said in early May after tidal flooding and heavy rains in his state led Guard members to deploy LMTVs.
Army National Guard logistics division officials said the 54 states and territories have 22,244 high-water vehicles, ranging from 1,159 in Pennsylvania to 15 in the Virgin Islands. The division considers everything from 2.5-ton trucks to the M977 heavy, expanded-mobility tactical truck, or HEMTT, as high-water vehicles. The total doesn't include the ubiquitous Humvee, which can ford through five feet of water when equipped with the proper kit.
For emergency response, the Army Guard relies heavily on the LMTV -- its cargo and van models have a 2.5-ton capacity -- and the medium tactical vehicle, which has a 5-ton capacity. Both entered service in 1996, have automatic transmissions, and run on jet fuel.
The HEMTT comes in five models and stands more than eight feet tall. The lightest version weighs well over 30,000 pounds and is capable of fording water up to four feet deep. Although the Humvee is not considered a high-water vehicle, with a deep water-fording kit it can drive through five feet of water.
These trucks are heavy as well as high, which means they are considerably less likely to float away. The LMTV, for example, weighs more than 13 tons.
Florida Army Guard transportation soldiers made sure their high-water vehicles were in working order as Hurricane Gustav neared their state in late August.
Also in August, after Tropical Storm Fay brought heavy rain to much of Florida, members of the 254th Transportation Battalion used high-water vehicles in four southern counties to help emergency first-responders perform damage and flood assessment.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert Talent, a truckmaster for the battalion, helped with the assessment missions.
"The LMTV is very useful, because it is so versatile," he explained, pointing out the five high-water trucks in the motor pool at his armory. Talent added that LMTV drivers know and follow their safety guidelines when driving through high water.
(Air Force Master Sgt. Greg Rudl serves at the National Guard Bureau.)