For Army units, a good mattress is a Humvee's hood
Three-man combat teams mounted - and sleeping - on Humvees make up the backbone of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Baghdad.
In a war zone, sometimes the most precious commodity isn't bullets or chow, it is sleep.
Where soldiers decide to catch their zzzs speaks volumes about how they approach their mission.
For most of the US Army scouts with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) patrolling eastern Baghdad, their deluxe nightly accommodations consist of any level surface they can find on or in their Humvees. Rather than an Army-issued cot, or even a soft, cushy bed, many of the three-man combat crews prefer to sleep with their Humvees.
"It is tradition to sleep with your truck," says Sgt. Ryan McGee of Brook, Ind. "It is like the old days of the US Cavalry when they would sleep with their horses."
Sergeant McGee, a Humvee gunner with Hawk Troop of the 2nd ACR out of Fort Polk, La., stretches out each night inside the back-seat area of his vehicle. The driver prefers to sleep across the hood, just in front of the windshield, while the truck commander snoozes up top on the roof near the mounted machine gun.
Similar arrangements are apparent on truck after truck lined up each morning as the sun rises over Camp Marlboro, an Iraqi cigarette factory now being used as a temporary military base. Troops emerge from under their poncho liners draped over various parts of their Humvees.
While sleeping in this way looks uncomfortable, there are significant advantages to staying close to your vehicle, scouts say.
"There's just too much stuff to pick up in the morning [when sleeping away from the truck]," says Sgt. Alvis Wells of Livonia, Mich., truck commander of McGee's Humvee.
Everything an Army scout needs is in or on the truck, including food and ammunition. They brush their teeth with bottled water stored in the truck. They shave using the Humvee's side-view mirrors.
"It is home," says Sgt. Daniel Stewart of Hope, Ark. "You live there and all your possessions are on that truck."
What this means in terms of combat readiness is that even when they aren't on patrol, these troops can be on the road and fighting in a matter of moments.
Three-man combat teams mounted on Humvees make up the backbone of the 2nd ACR. This is the modern Army version of the same US Cavalry that rode by horseback across the American West and conducted bugle-led charges against marauding Indian warriors.
Today, rather than quarter horses, they ride 160-horsepower Humvees. Technically, the machine is called a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV). It is basically a 1-1/4 ton truck with four-wheel drive. It can travel from 0 to 30 miles per hour in eight seconds, with a maximum speed of 70 miles per hour. The truck can cover 300 miles without refueling.
Although they aren't as agile as horses, they are about as mobile as you can get on four wheels. They have a 16-inch clearance underneath, which comes in handy when jumping Baghdad road dividers to execute a fast U-turn. And they are capable of climbing or descending a 60- degree slope, a maneuver that would roll an ordinary SUV.
Most of the Humvees currently deployed with the 2nd ACR came off the assembly line in 1984, which makes them ancient in military terms. In fact, it makes them older than many of the soldiers driving them.
It also means that none of them is equipped with the extra armor that was added to some Humvee models in later years.
This issue became a source of friendly debate recently after a military police unit from the 3rd Infantry Division arrived at Camp Marlboro to conduct joint patrols in eastern Baghdad. The Army scouts of the 2nd ACR noticed immediately that the military police officers had the so-called up-armored vehicles. They wondered why, as a potential front-line combat unit, cavalry scouts had not been considered for the newer, beefier trucks.
The armor on the new trucks is supposed to be able to protect the crew from bullets fired from an AK-47 assault rifle, an explosion from a 12-pound antitank mine, and airbursts from 155-mm artillery rounds. In contrast, the canvas and fiberglass doors on the older Humvees are vulnerable to pretty much anything stronger than a light breeze.
Nothing personal, soldiers here say. It was a budget decision. The 3rd Infantry Division got the money, 2nd ACR didn't.
But others say it doesn't matter. Some scouts say they wouldn't necessarily feel safer in a newer, armored truck.
"Would you trade your horse in for one of those now?" McGee asks another scout.
The safety of a Humvee combat crew has more to do with the training and attitude of the soldiers manning the truck than protective equipment on the truck, say several Army scouts. Although one feature of the up-armored trucks is attractive, many admit. They are air-conditioned.
A joke circulating among Army scouts is that all the "bad guys" in Baghdad are already well aware of the difference between the old green trucks driven by the scouts and the new tan ones driven by the MPs.
"The Iraqis know that they can shoot at the tan ones all day," McGee says, "but the green ones shoot back."