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GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.

TOY TERRAIN TEAM |

December 18, 2012

Name: Charlie Sherpa
Previously embedded:
with former unit in Afghanistan
Hometown: Boone, Iowa
Milblog: Red Bull Rising
Email: SherpaatRedBullRising.com

Framed Sherpa TOY TERRAIN TEAMBeing a parent and uncle to a couple of grade-schoolers, I make regular patrols through toy stores, monitoring trends and prices, and maintaining a target list of potential birthday and holiday presents. Between Key Leader Engagements (K.L.E.) with Ken and Barbie, I also keep eyes out for new superhero gear and die-cast cars. I'm like a one-man Toy Terrain Team (T.T.T.).

It's not all fun and games. The toys we make and buy for our children are part of our national narrative. When new military tools and technologies show up in miniature on our toy department shelves—Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (U.A.V.), for example, or bomb-proof trucks—it says as much about our society's present-day values as it does our military tactics. To repurpose the old Army truism about training: "We play like we fight, and fight like we play."

Toys are also likely points of entry to conversations with children about war and service. "Your dad used to ride in that kind of truck when he was in the Army," I've heard myself saying, or "Your papa used to fly in a plane like that when he was in the Air Force ..." Afghanistan and Vietnam are big abstractions, but toys can help young heads and hands understand some of the basics. Even if the only lesson they walk away with for now is "Dad was in the Army, Papa was in the Air Force."

Matchbox has recently released a 1:64-scale version of the Oshkosh M-A.T.V. The word is an acronym within an acronym. Unpacked, it means "Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected All-Terrain Vehicle." The real-world vehicle is manufactured by Oshkosh Corp., Oshkosh, Wis.

See also these previous blog-posts: "The Arsenal of Fun and Freedom"
and "The Boys Get More Toys"
The M-ATV is my probably second-favorite Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected ("M-RAP") truck in the U.S. Army inventory. I've spent more time in the MaxxPro, manufactured by Navistar International. That's probably because the M-ATV design seats four, while the MaxxPro seats up to seven. Like some sort of military-grade mini-van, it's easier to throw the kids, embedded journalists, and other strap-hangers in the back of a MaxxPro.

By comparison, the M-ATV is a sedan. It's hard to see out from the back seats, too, which makes it less fun for us rubber-neckers.

The 2012 Matchbox version of the M-ATV comes in dark forest green with a billboard-high graphic "M-ATV" decal on each side: Hip-hop camouflage for hot-rodding through the bomb-ridden swamp. It also appears to be "licensed" design, which means the toy's manufacturers have permission to make the scaled-down version look like the real thing.

It's part of the Matchbox "Jungle" series, which includes a "Jungle Crawler,""Jeep Willys," and "Land Rover Defender 100." If you're traveling through marshy terrain, each of these other vehicles is probably more survivable than the 27.5-ton M-ATV.

The M-ATV is lighter and more maneuverable than other M-RAP variants, after all, but it's not going to float. It's going to sink like a plate-armored rock.

According to the packaging, rather than protecting occupants from Improved Explosive Devices (I.E.D.), the toy version is more likely intended to keep the crocodiles at bay:
You've got to be extra tough to survive the Jungle! These off-road and 4WD vehicles are built to handle the most hostile terrain imaginable. Rugged safety vehicles scramble through the dense foliage protecting passengers from the fierce wildlife and extreme conditions!
At least the exterior paint job is arguably military in nature. In 2011, the first Matchbox versions of a Matchbox "SWAT Truck," apparently inspired by the MaxxPro silhouette, were first available in either black-and-white or powder-blue law-enforcement livery. No camouflage in sight. The MaxxPro-like design also appeared later in fire-engine red, as part of an Matchbox "MBX Airport" series.

I still say: If you need an M-RAP truck to carry your baggage, you're flying out of the wrong airports.

Some of the doubt and debate about U.S. military acquisitions strategy involves whether or not M-RAP trucks were good investments. Some people argue that M-RAP trucks may or may not have saved lives. Or that they pushed troops into a hunkered-and-bunkered mindset that was contrary to counterinsurgency ("COIN") and advise-and-assist practices. In terms of sharing risks and hardships, or developing face-to-face relationships, after all, it's hard to get Afghan civilians and soldiers to take you seriously if you're sitting in a bomb-proof truck.

Still, no other U.S. weapon design better exemplifies my era's ground conflict in Afghanistan than the M-ATV. I may not be able to put an M-RAP in my garage, but I can sock one away in my war-toy chest.

In fact, I bought three. Because it's never too early to teach your kids about good convoy operations. It's a jungle out there.

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