By Dave Thompson, CWO (ret’d)
On the 26th of June 2010 tragedy struck the Canadian Task Force in Afghanistan. While supporting operations, a Bison wheeled ambulance struck an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) killing both medics, the crew commander, and the driver. Shortly after this tragic incident, the task force commander, General J. Vance, ordered that no Bison ambulances would be allowed “outside the wire”. But support of those operations needed to continue; the only way forward was to put the medics back into an armoured tracked vehicle, in this case, a Tracked Light Armoured Vehicle (T-LAV), an updated variant of the M113 Armoured Personal Carrier (APC).
The National Support Element (NSE) Maintenance Company was tasked with getting this done. This was not a small effort, especially in a theatre of war where T-LAVs were all allocated to units or going through an in-theatre upgrade by a Technical Assistance Visit team.
This was a directive from the task force commander with a “no fail” direction, so the following individuals developed a strategy to accomplish the highly important, time-sensitive task: Maj M. Cole, Officer Commanding NSE Maintenance, with MWO R. Clements, Equipment Technical Sergeant Major, WO D. Thompson, Ancillary Platoon Commander, WO S. Slominski, Material Section In-Charge, WO G. Whittaker, Vehicle Platoon Commander.
WO Slominski and his Material Technicians (Mat Techs) took the lead on converting at least seven T-LAVs into ambulances. They were assisted by two vehicle technicians. In an “all-hands-on” approach, the Mat Section was broken into two teams led by MCpl R. Stewart and MCpl A. O’Hara, working twelve-hour days and night shifts respectively. Converting the T-LAV into an ambulance required the teams to consult with medics in order to understand the minimum requirements necessary to provide life saving measures. Thus, Sgt Hart, a medic from the field hospital, along a with a fully kitted Bison ambulance, came into the Mat Section. After consultations between Sgt Hart and WO Thompson, WO Slominski, and MCpl Stewart, the medical requirements were incorporated, and the conversion programme was set in motion.
The new design allowed for two stretchers to be placed one above the other on the right inside. This afforded the most available space and allowed easy ingress and egress from the back of the vehicle. To accomplish this, the team had to remove the right-side impact seats while leaving the impact seating actuating system. This would serve as the foundation for the brackets that would incorporate the stretcher framework.
They would also have to move some components of the Remote Weapons System, move wiring and brackets, and modify the ballistic blankets on the left and right sides to allow easier access to the medical gear that would now be placed behind them.
With the initial design concept completed, the team began to manufacture the necessary framework and brackets, modify the ballistic blankets, and reroute the wiring. Within two days the first prototype T-LAV ambulance was completed, and all designs, pictures, and pertinent information was emailed to Ottawa for approval. Within the week Maj Cole received approval to move forward with the conversions with only a few minor changes to the design.
With final approval and design in hand, the Mat Section assembled six additional T-LAV ambulance conversions kits. They also developed instructions for removing, recording, and stowing the removed T-LAV components and installing the kits. From approval to completion, the entire process took only three to four weeks.
The kits now had to be deployed. To ensure the least amount of downtime and to expedite the installation, they were boxed and sent out to the appropriate Forward Observation Posts. There, the Mat Techs installed them with assistance from the vehicle techs. Components removed from the T-LAVs were identified, tagged, and manifested for the specific vehicle they came from and were placed within individual “tri-wall” boxes for ease of identification.
Even though the Mat Section had completed their main task, they still needed to follow up with the medics themselves. This was a necessary and critical step in order to understand how effective and functional the conversion was. The medics made suggestions for minor improvements, but overall, the T-LAV ambulance was adequate and functional for the current needs of the medics in theatre.
“Overall intent is not to design the perfect Ambulance but to conduct a deliberate design review and modification of the TLAV Ambulances that were created in Afghanistan, in order to create seven MTVAs which are all internally consistent and repeatable / repairable.” – Statement of Requirements (27 Nov 2012)
Over the next four years, while the T-LAV ambulances continued to serve Canadian Medics in Afghanistan, Land Engineering Support Centre, the T-LAV Equipment Management Team, Director Land Requirements, Quality Engineering Test Establishment, and the CF Health Services in Ottawa along with 202 Workshop Depot in Montreal continued to improve on the work done by the Mat and Veh Techs of Task Force 1-10.
Their work led to the development of the new MTVA. To this day, Canadian Forces Medics engaged in the direct role of supporting operations are protected “under armour” in these innovative vehicles, including the newly designed Armoured Combat Support Vehicle.
Arte et Marte
All images used with permission.
Material for this story is drawn from the author’s knowledge as well as first-hand accounts from WO Slominski, MCpl Stewart and O’Hara.
Other information and images were drawn from materials produced by LESC / 202 Wksp, and QETE.