“HEAT” proven lifesaver on the battlefield

Story by David Altom, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

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The Humvee Egress Assistance Trainer revving up for a spin.  It may seem like a carnival ride to some, but it is a proven lifesaver.  (Photo by Capt. Steve Martin, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs)

Greenville, Ky.— Question:  what’s tan and steel, spins 360 degrees, shares its name with a professional basketball team and saves lives on the battlefield?

Answer:  The HEAT.

Okay, so it’s not funny.  That was just to get your attention.  Now comes the important stuff, the part you’re supposed to read ….

According to its manufacturer, the Humvee Egress Assistance Trainer — or HEAT — is a stand-alone training device that simulates rollover of armored vehicles. The HEAT exposes trainees to real rollover conditions and forces that they would encounter during a  vehicle rollover and presents the effects of these forces on personnel, weapons, equipment and cargo.  The HEAT also enables egress training from these vehicles from inverted positions, and allows for tactical training of personnel following egress.

Sgt. Michael Fontanez is a true believer in the HEAT.  Currently assigned to the Pre-mobilization Training and Assistance Element at the Kentucky National Guard’s Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center, Fontanez discovered the value of his training during a 2008-09 tour of duty in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division.

It was while in a 12 vehicle convoy near Fallujah that a roadside IED went off in front of Fontanez’s Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle, creating a large crater.  What happened next is a testament to the collective courage of  a Soldier and his team — and the value of quality training.

“The explosion made visibility bad and we fell into the hole,” said Fontanez.  “As we started rolling the first thing comes to your mind is, what do you do.  So we started yelling ‘Roll over! Roll over!’ just as we were trained.”

The team also pulled their gunner down from the turret and held him until the vehicle stopped rolling, an action that most likely saved his life.

“Once we stopped moving the first thing we did was check ourselves,” Fontanez said.  “Sometimes you don’t know if you’re injured.  We also checked our equipment, weapons, goggles, the important stuff we’re supposed to carry.  We tried the door but it wouldn’t open, so we pretty much crawled out of the turret.  We then went into a safe area and checked for an ambush.”

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A Kentucky National Guard soldier helps his battle buddy egress from an inverted Humvee Egress Assistance Trainer during a demonstration at the Wendell H. For Regional Training Center in Greenville, Ky. (Photo by Capt. Steve Martin, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs)

Fortune smiled that day; there was no ambush and no fatalities.  But there were injuries.  Fontanez hit the top of his head and incurred a cervical injury.  The gunner suffered an inch wide cut on his face.  But they survived, thanks to the HEAT and the quick reaction of the team.

“The training helped us run on autopilot,” said Fontanez.  “We knew what was going to happen and we knew what to do.  That step by step training triggered our muscle memory, we all ran on the same page, even with being disoriented.”

Fontanez now helps Kentucky’s Citizen Soldiers prepare for deployment using the HEAT and he loves his job.  His advice to anyone getting ready to go through his lane?

“They should most definitely take it seriously.  It can seem like a exciting ride, like at the county fair.  So sure, have fun with it.  But it has a purpose.  It will save your life.”

Don’t take our word for it.  Ask Fontanez’s wife and three girls.  They’ll make believers out of you.

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