The Luckiest, and Saddest, Soldier in Afghanistan

An IED-crippled MRAP in Afghanistan / Army photo by Alicia Brand

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates was justifiably proud of his $45 billion push to speed up delivery of some 27,000 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicles to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The hulking troop-carriers have saved hundreds, if not thousands, of American lives. They roll as a rebuke to Don Rumsfeld's  observation to troops concerned about going into harm's way with so-called "hillbilly armor" that "you go to war with the army you have - not the army you might want." But a recent deadly - and chilling - blast makes clear that MRAP protection can only do so much. War remains a constant seesaw, with offense trumping defense until defense builds up and counters offense. But beefing up armored vehicles adds weight, which requires more fuel to power them, which means more fuel convoys must traverse hostile terrain, which means more exposure to improvised explosive devices and other crude, but effective, weapons.

Insurgents killed five troops inside an MRAP last Thursday with a roadside bomb apparently filled with military-grade explosives. It blew the doors and turret off the vehicle, pushed its monstrous engine into the crew compartment, and sent a plume of smoke 200 feet into the sky. The Pentagon named the five soldiers killed on Sunday. "I don’t know what to do right now. My whole squad is gone," PFC Jeremy Urzua told Stars and Stripes. He was supposed to be aboard that MRAP, but his squad leader - one of those killed in the blast - had given him Thursday off. "He just saved my life."

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