ARLINGTON, Va. - In war, they're called combat vehicles. They're the Light and Medium Tactical Vehicles, HMETTs, deuce-and-a-halfs, and five-ton trucks that are used to haul troops, supplies and equipment around battlefields.
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.
Some states call them high-water vehicles; others high-clearance, still others high-wheeled. 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 American citizens, carry boats that can rescue more 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 on Thursday 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 Ready to Eat to residents of flood-ravaged Iowa in June.
- The National Guard from several states pre-positioned over 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 Guardmembers 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 HWV can plow through several feet of water.
"The LMTVs (Light Medium Tactical Vehile) can carry up to 15 people and have a high ground clearance, which allows them operate in up to four feet of water," said Army Lt. Col. Len Gratteri, a Delaware National Guard spokesman, in early May after tidal flooding and heavy rains in his state led Guardmembers to deploy LMTVs.
According to the Army National Guard's logistics division, there are 22,244 high-water vehicles in the 54 states and territories, 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 (HEMTT) as high-water vehicles. It 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, which has a 2.5-ton capacity (cargo and van models) and a five-ton capacity, called the MTV (Medium Tactical Vehicle). Both entered service in 1996, have automatic transmissions, and run on jet fuel.
The Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, or HEMTT, comes in five models and stands over eight feet tall. The lightest version weighs well over 30,000 lbs., and is capable of fording water up to four feet deep. Although the Humvee is not considered a HWV, 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 HWVs 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 HWVs in four southern Florida 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.