| A file picture of an Amphibious Assault Vehicle. (AFP)
Grinding hot gears and belching black smoke, the “hog” roared into life with only one destination in mind.
“Baghdad or bust, baby, Baghdad or bust,” muttered the US Marine driver into the intercom. Tracks rumbling, armour plates rattling, the metal beast hammered up the highway.
The machines — Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs) — are now one of the strangest sights on the roads to Baghdad, thundering north in convoys taking Marines into battle. Ugly, brutal looking contraptions, the vehicles look something like a giant tank with a small gun turret at the front, running on tracks that rip twin furrows in the earth.
Corrugated plating designed to deflect bullets covers the flanks, reminiscent of the scales of some prehistoric beast. The front is planed to an angle like the nose of shark — at night twin lamps glow like beady yellow eyes.
Names like “Millennium Falcon,” “Woo Doo” and “Baghdaddy,” daubed on the turrets give the creatures some personality, but they are basically designed to kill people or help US Marines do the same thing. They are hot, claustrophobic and noisy — and that’s before 21 combat ready troops jump into the back. Sunlight streamed into the darkened interior as the rear hatch folded down to form an entry ramp for front-line “grunts” who tumbled in loaded with rifles, rocket launchers and grenades.
Bodies, weapons and webbing invaded the vehicle, the Marines squashed together into what looked like a single mass of camouflaged limbs, belts of brass cartridges and combat knives.
“Sometimes it’s hot as hell,” said Rick Lulves, a 21-year-old US Marine private first class, squashed in between two of his comrades. Rivulets of sweat ran down his face from under a green bandana tied round his forehead. The desert sun turns the vehicle into an oven on tracks. “We get used to it,” he said, as Marines attempted to find comfortable sitting positions around him.
Some sat slumped between their comrades’ legs on the floor, others squeezed into an almost foetal position at the sides, or squatted on wooden crates of ammunition. Marines say the machines — from the AAV-7A1 family of vehicles, many built in the mid-1980s — can be extremely uncomfortable — but it’s better than walking into battle.
“We’ve got 19 guys crammed into a space meant for 10,” said Sergeant Brian Mayhew, 23, cooling himself by a hatch on the roof. “People get upset living in a motor home, we’ve got guys sleeping on guys, sleeping on gear,” he said.