Greenville News editorial: State shares in MRAP's success, winner of Przirembel Prize

Editorial which originally appeared in Greenville News

A military vehicle that has strong links to South Carolina and that might not even be in service without the work of Sen. Lindsey Graham has been credited by outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates as crucial to saving thousands of lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The success of the military’s Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle is owed in large measure to Graham, the individuals at the facility in Charleston that outfits the vehicles, and other manufacturers around the state that contribute components.

In a recent report in USA Today, Gates said the MRAP has turned out to be 10 times safer than the Humvees it replaced. “Thousands and thousands of lives have been saved and multiples of that in terms of limbs,” he told the newspaper. The Pentagon’s Joint Program Office MRAPs said the vehicles have saved as many as 40,000 lives in the two wars, reported USA Today. That newspaper’s reporting in 2007 detailed the shortcomings of Humvees and speeded up the flow of MRAPs to the battlefield. A Brookings Institution analyst says the Pentagon’s figure is too high, but agrees that MRAP has saved many lives, the newspaper reported.

Regardless of what the actual number is, the clear reality is that this vehicle has proven to be essential to the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and will be an important tool for the U.S. military moving forward.

Getting the vehicles to the troops in the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan proved a challenge. Sen. Graham’s dogged persistence in the early days of the Iraq war helped secure $4.5 million to build a prototype MRAP above the objections of the Pentagon that resisted the move to a new vehicle.

Now, there are 27,000 of the vehicles in service around the globe. MRAPs are built with V-shaped hulls that deflect the force of bombs that detonate beneath them. They are critical in protecting our troops from the deadly improvised explosive devices that have proved to be the weapon of choice for insurgents in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Graham deserves a great deal of credit for moving this vehicle to the battlefield, and South Carolina is essential to the vehicles’ deployment. Companies such as Michelin and ISO Poly Films build components for the MRAP; South Carolina companies Force Protection; Protected Vehicles Inc.; and BAE have manufactured some of the vehicles; and every MRAP that’s deployed passes through the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR) in Charleston for “integration,” or equipping the vehicles for their mission.

For that collaborative and innovative process, SPAWAR was awarded the first ever Przirembel Prize at this year’s InnoVenture conference in Greenville. The prize recognizes “collaborations across diverse organizations in the Southeastern United States deemed significant by those outside the region” and promotes “best practices in open innovation,” according to a news release.

SPAWAR estimates that the MRAP collaboration directly created 1,200 jobs in South Carolina, and more when including those jobs created by suppliers and support services.

It’s safe to say that without South Carolina, this life-saving vehicle that gets so much credit from Gates — whose agency initially opposed its development — would not have made it to the battlefield.

The development, production and deployment of the MRAP is a success story that is too seldom told. Gates’ comments in a departing interview offered a glimpse at how crucial the MRAP’s development and production was to the war effort. From Graham’s efforts to get the project off the ground, to the news media’s exposure of the dangers of Humvees and the delays in getting MRAPs to the field, to the day-to-day efforts of South Carolina-based men and women who work to get these vehicles to the battlefield, this is a collaborative effort with real benefits for America’s military.

Gates said all of those efforts contribute to another important effect of the MRAP program. There is a significant “impact on the morale of the troops,” Gates told the newspaper. “Not only in knowing they can survive these attacks, but that the folks back home are willing to do whatever it takes to protect them.”

MRAP and the people and organizations in South Carolina and around the nation who made it happen are a clear demonstration of that willingness.

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