Thursday, November 20, 2008

On Strykers

For every ten silly questions I get about the Army and being in Iraq ("Are there any hot chicks?" being the most practical), I get one good natured, serious question. One that keeps coming up is, "What is a Stryker?" I have a hard time answering that question if the person asking is not familar with military hardware. I usually describe it as a smaller tank (it isn't) or like an armored bus. More informed folks are satisfied with the answer of it being an APC (armored personnel carrier). But because it has only been in combat for five years, little is known about the Stryker outside of the military community. Hopefully I can shed just a little light on this.

Forward thinking propelled the Stryker into 21st century warfare. Its necessity rises from the philosophy that big, conventional tank-on-tank wars were a Cold War relic and unconventional, smaller wars were going to be all the rage. Egghead thinking prevailed if Iraq and Afghanistan are any indication.

The Stryker is an eight-wheeled armored infantry carrier specifically designed for urban conflict. Its thinner armor relative to the Bradley and Abrams Main Battle Tank gives it the mobility and speed needed to meet unconventional threats. Think blitzkrieg meets mujaheddin. Unlike the Brad and Abrams, the Stryker sits on top of eight huge tires, each capable of running completely flat. For defense, each Stryker is fitted with either a .50 cal machine gun or a Mk-19 grenade launcher, fed by linked grenades for automatic fire. The Mobile Gun System variant, in contrast, boasts a 105mm cannon. In combat, the armor can stand .50 cal fire but crumbles under the explosions of RPG fire. To combat this effect, a cage was built around the vehicle. Slat armor is just narrow enough to force the warhead to explode several feet from the Stryker, displacing deadly shrapnel.

Bottom center: Slat armor

The most common variant is the Infantry Carrying Vehicle, the kind I rode in for my entire enlistment. A vehicle commander guides the driver, the squad leader observes from the front, and two men in the back watch the flanks of the vehicle. With retrofitted armor, these positions leave the soldiers vulnerable from the neck up or the chest up, depending on the defilade. Inside, two benches seat three men on one side and four on the other. Situations on the ground dictated how many men could be crammed into a moving vehicle in combat. Seventeen fully armored men and one dog was the unofficial platoon record. Some have asked me what it's like to ride in a Stryker. Here's your answer:

Diehards of OPSEC, I hope you are pleased. I edited out our terp and super duper tech equipment. Credit goes to Dozer for the video. Shauu!

When the Stryker was first in combat in 2003, pundits, analysts and dudes stuck in the 80s were falling over themselves to declare the Stryker a failure. In actuality, it has risen from a strange new vehicle to a must have in combat.

The Stryker is the only vehicle in the American arsenal capable of dropping a fully equipped squad onto an insurgent's doorstep, and it will do it quietly. My brigade earned the nickname Ghostriders in its first deployment for their ability to sneak into neighborhoods in the silence of night, nab potential bad guys and leave unnoticed. As a weapons platform, Strykers have the ability to have three barrels and a crew served weapon pointed at any direction at any given time.

Modern COIN doctrine requires that two Stryker brigades operate in Iraq at any given time. It's a testament to the ferocious tenacity of Stryker soldiers to bring the fight to the enemy at every turn. It's no coincidence that Strykers have led in nearly every major campaign since the invasion. From Tal Alfar and Mosul in 2003-2004, to Baghdad in 2006 and Diyala Province from 2007 to present, Strykers have been in the thick of it. In Baqubah, IEDs became such a nuisance that we only used the vehicles for infiltration and exfil. Still, we were able to subdue most of the city before reinforcements arrived months later. It is clear that it isn't only the Strykers that make a difference, but the soldiers inside of them. No fight was tougher in 2007 than the battle for Baqubah, and it was conducted with a minimal amount of vehicle support. The capital of al-Qaeda in Iraq was toppled by Stryker soldiers, never deterred over the loss of the vehicle itself.

Strykers are the future of the Army, if it isn't already clear. The days of tank-on-tank warfare are over, and no other unit is better prepared to fight a sustained battle than a Stryker brigade. Yet Strykers are hardly recognized for helping to turn the tide in Iraq despite the 3rd Stryker Brigade leading in both Baghdad and Diyala Province, places that were hotly contested by both American and insurgent forces for the past several years. If anything, the early critics of the Stryker can be finally silenced as it becomes the centerpiece of American counterinsurgency operations.

The most important part of a Stryker unit



MJ Athens said...


How is it propelled? Is it a front wheel drive? It can go on flat tires but have they figured out a way to stop them by hitting the drive train?

MJ Athens said...

Hey Dude, this guy really doesn't like strykers'

Anonymous said...

Those guys look like a bunch of pricks.

Alex Horton said...


It's all wheel drive. That guy seems like an expert. I'm sure he'd like to roll up on an insurgent's house in a tracked vehicle. They'd find it empty after the bad guys heard the tracks from two miles away.

MJ Athens said...

Makes sense to me, I know how noisy tracks are. After I asked you about the vehicle I went to the google and hit that site. The guy certainly has an agenda. The only thing I ever saw that resembled the Stryker was the

The mp's would run the roads with us on convoys in them but they looked pretty shaky to me. I liked my duece and a half with sandbags on the floor!

bigD said...

Hi Alex,
Good lesson on the "mean green machine."

Why does the vehicle commander have to guide the driver? Are they hard to drive? Is vehicle commander the same as TC?

I liked the part about the seventeen soldiers in full kit and the about sardines in a can! And you forgot to mention climate control and how many hot sweaty soldiers you can torture in a Stryker when the AC unit is broken. Not meant for those of us with claustrophobia or delicate constitutions. LOL!

Here is a poem I wrote back in April of 2008 after reading about how hot it was in the Stryker. I cannot take credit for the expression the "green oven." I have heard that is what the soldiers called the Stryker because it was so hot!

The Green Oven

They call me the “Green Oven.”
I am rolling hell on eight wheels.
I am hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Preheat to 450 degrees of separation.

Give me your tired, your poor
Warriors, yearning to be free.

Shut the door.
Cramped and dark, wait in my belly.

Sit and stew with the fear that simmers
just beneath the surface of your fragile mind.
Let me fry your brain and bake the life right out of you.

I’ll take my pound of flesh in sweat and tears,
Until it is time to send you spewing forth onto
another war torn street.

Take care Alex. Strykers rock!!

Alex Horton said...


Good poem. The VC has to guide the driver because his view is extremely limited. He can see straight out in front but not too far from the left or right. He cannot see behind him at all. The VC guides him everywhere, and the squad leader/air guards can direct him further if he needs to turn or back up. The VC is practically a TC. Old crusty guys still used that term.

As far as climate control - we had heaters but no A/C. We just had a fan that blew air and had them retrofitted with vents. Only two of the four vehicles in my platoon had them, and even then, it ate up the gas so much that their use was very limited. Only command vehicles had proper A/C. I for one am shocked officers had better equipment for themselves!

I've never been claustrophobic in my life, but being cramped on a bench with eight other dudes in the summer heat made me hyperventilate. I wanted to tear off my vest and plunge into an open hatch. But I sucked it up like everyone else.

MJ Athens said...

Have I asked this before? In the 1st gulf war I had a friend whose brother was a marine. He asked what he should send in a care package? I told him booze in a plastic bottle. Declined and when the guy came home and we asked him he said "HELL YES" you should have. It is hard for me to imagine American fighting men NOT finding some way to get fucked up no matter where the are but if they do in this "action" it sure is covered up well. Comments?

Alex Horton said...


I don't want to reveal the methods used to receive alcohol (OPSEC!), but yes. It gets through.

Unknown said...

Reading the anti-Stryker website made me wonder if perhaps the author's mother was frightened by a wheels driver when she was carrying him.


MJ Athens said...

My faith in the American fighting man (person) is restored!

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 12/05/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

MJ Athens said...

Gen. Eric Shinseki for head of the VA.

Dragonscribe said...

Thanks for the first hand information. I have a nephew just finishing a year of driving one of these. I talked to him a lot about it when he was home, and your info helps me interpret some of what he said. He said they have a lot of maintenance problems and blamed it on the fact that too few follow the procedure of water-washing the engine to get rid of dust every time you come back to the FOB. He had very high confidence in the Strykers combat survivability. He could rattle off the number RPGs, IEDs, and others that his "truck" had survived. I think if I had asked him the Stryker's greatest weakness he would have said "Officers."

Anonymous said...


First, wanted to say that this is an awesome blog; truly a great read.

Secondly, just some questions about the use of the two turrets. Is the .50 cal ever used in combat manually, or is it always fired remotely? What about the m249? Is it used in full-on firefights at all?

Hal Kimball said...

Looks like a Yakima picture! Man I hated YTC, even with the Bradley's. 1-23 Infantry transitioned from Brads to Strykers after I left for Korea, never got to play with the Stryker, not sure if they would have let me since I was a Bradley Master Gunner though...good stuff Alex.

Anonymous said...


From my pals in Afghanistan they Will not use Strykers outside the main roads or town. In the mountains thy are nothing more than targets. One guy told me they used them by letting one guy drive it like a bat out of hell then calling fire on the muzzle flashes. Those guys are begging for helo support. I agree the apc's (the bulldog I think is a very nice ride) are the tool for Iraq, I don't know if we can say they alone are the future. They are not a replacement for armor. I saw some of the early testing and the strykers don't take large rounds well. A Bradly has the thing out gunned, that's saying something.

Being airborne I didn't ride in vehicles as much as I would have liked. I always see thing as a balancing act. Mobility, firepower, protection and stealth. Different situation call for different tools. The trick is to have the right tool before you need it. We go into Iran or Ukraine and the Styker may not be tool we need.

Anonymous said...

Hey man, great info. Just one minor thing about the MGS -- the Abrams uses a 120mm gun, a German gun that's bigger and a lot nastier than the 105 that's mounted on the MGS. Not that I'd want to take a hit from the 105 on the MGS!

Keep on keepin' on,

Jenn O'Neil said...

Thanks for this information - it's hard to get this point of view.

I'm wondering if you have any opinions on the new VA Secretary nominee?

Alex Horton said...


The .50 cal is fired remotely most of the time. Firing it manually requires that your full body is exposed to enemy fire. When the system fails (as it often does), that forces the vehicle commander to get top of the vehicle and free gun it. My buddy bravely jumped on the gun and shot down three insurgents. If he was an E6+ or an officer, it would've gotten him a Bronze Star. Also, the M249 is used quite frequently in firefights, as its the smallest machine gun available and is carried by two men in a squad.


The Stryker would not be ideal in a conventional big battle war, but that isn't likely to happen. The terrain in Afghanistan is unforgiving to any vehicle, not just Strykers. The Stryker is not ideal for the mountainous locales, but more Humvees aren't the answer, either.


Thanks for the head's up! I edited accordingly.

Walters wife said...

Hi, I am the wife of SPC Kevin Walters of the Arctic Wolves, Ft wainwright, AK. Currently my husband is deployed with the 1/25 Sbct, formally the 172nd. I see that you have current blogs, are you still deployed. My husband is a mortarmen in the stryker brigade. Even though they arent used in country. Nice to hear someone fighting for those who actually fight.

Unknown said...

The problem with the wheels vs tracks argument of the late 90's wasn't what it was made out to be about. The problem was that the original criteria for this vehicle, the project milestones and phase lines that it was suppose to tick off, and the capabilities that it was suppose to solve were already solved.

The argument was never which was one better, but why spend all that money when we had off the shelf tech and existing platforms that would do it.

The Stryker did not meet all of it's own project goals. It came in over budget, over weight, not air droppable, not air deployable in time allotted. Not capable of defending all the rounds listed. The only thing it did meet was it's road speed.

It's a great vehicle, it's an enhanced LAV4. It does a good job, but that was not the argument. The argument was that it failed all of it's project criteria and off the shelf MTVL (latest M113 version) met all the criteria that the Stryker failed at.

The argument is about the agenda, not the platform. As always though it falls on the Soldier to take the equipment and excel at it, and you guys have. My hat is off to you, but had the Stryker met weight and it's required dimensions it would have really been something. Then it could have been deployed any where, at anytime...which was suppose to be it's primary goal.

As an ex-paratrooper, I would have loved to have seen this thing meet that requirement. It would have been nice to see them operational on a DZ as per the original goal, but it didn't work out that way and we bought them anyway.


Anonymous said...

If you're gonna stop writing just say so.

Alex Horton said...

Just taking a break, anon. Working full time during the week and going to school on the weekend doesn't leave much time to wax philosophically, but I do appreciate your concern. I have something in the works, don't you worry!

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm crazy, but I'd like to read about your daily life now as much as I did when you were in Iraq. It's the person, your unique point of view, that is interesting. What you're trying to accomplish, your education, your relationship, things you notice now that you didn't before, your new career, how your old friends treat you -- I suppose it's vicarious, but that's what reading's all about, right? I promise I'll still buy your book!!! Just feed me man!!! :)

Long-time RN said...

Merry Christmas, Alex. Best to you in 2009 as well.

shea holliman said...

My old brigades nickname was "the dirty brigade"
and since I am now an IRR recall, I'll be seeing these again

Alex Horton said...


That sucks, but if I get called back, I hope it's for a Stryker brigade. It'd suck to be tossed into a Humvee after riding in luxury for 15 months.

shea holliman said...

Hey Walters Wife,
Tell Kevin I said hello,
or, they used to call me, holyman, siad hello,
and man, I completely agree, it sucks,

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this post!

I've asked other Stryker soldiers about the vehicle but have never gotten an answer. Hard to imagine steering something with eight wheels, much less something with eight flat wheels!