ARLINGTON, Va. - As part of a program to update the Army's tactical ambulance fleet, medics throughout the Army National Guard will soon work from the Army's newest ambulances.
The Army Guard is set to receive 500 of the new M997A3 Humvee ambulances late next year. They will augment, and in some cases replace, the older M996 two-litter ambulances and M997 four-litter models, said Army Guard officials.
The push for the new ambulances came about in 2009 as a result of a shortage of tactical ambulances Army-wide.
"Just within the Army Guard we had a shortage of 602," said Army Capt. Kevin Schierholz, light tactical vehicle system integrator at the National Guard Bureau. "Bottom line is we had a shortage and the last ambulance had been produced in 1988."
As a response to that, the Army Guard received approval from the Department of the Army to procure 500 Humvee chassis and convert them to an ambulance configuration, Schierholz said.
"With that procurement there were also challenges because we're talking about (an ambulance) box that hasn't been produced since 1988, but we've got a modern chassis," he said, adding that one of the issues initially was that many companies that had manufactured the original ambulance bodies and associated parts were no longer doing so.
"Since the box hadn't been produced in more than 20 years, the companies that produced parts for those boxes were no longer in business," said Schierholz. "So those items had to be sourced elsewhere."
The vehicles underwent testing at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md., and are set for a limited production run scheduled to start in February followed by a full production run in May.
The new models feature a variety of upgrades from the ambulances they replace, including an improved drivetrain and electrical components, interior improvements inside the ambulance cabin and elements that provide for greater storage of medical equipment.
Improvements were also made to the lighting systems in the cabin, giving medics brighter LED lighting, and greater control over the ventilation system.
"There is a control panel back here for the heating and air conditioning systems," Schierholz said. "In the older model, those systems were controlled up front in the cab. Now the medics in the back can control the temperature in the back."
Additionally, a larger door between the front cab and the rear area allows for easier movement between the two," said Schierholz.
Along with the upgraded ambulance also comes improved medical kits that feature a greater emphasis on trauma care, Schierholz said.
And being a part of the design and implementation of the new ambulance body was a great opportunity.
"The great thing about this program is it's not very often that the Army National Guard gets to participate this much in a major acquisition system," Schierholz said. "This has been a great opportunity for us."
That opportunity also translates to greater readiness.
"The great news coming out of this is that after these 500 vehicles are fielded, the Army National Guard will be at 111 percent equipment-on-hand," Schierholz said. "What that allows us to do is we'll be able to divest of the older M996 ambulance models that we have as well as start looking at the older M997 models."
And that means having the most up to date equipment.
"Bottom line is once this is complete, the Army National Guard will have the most modern ambulance fleet in the Army," he said.