FORWARD OPERATING BASE RIPLEY, Afghanistan -- It's common throughout several Coalition-maintained bases in Afghanistan to see small green- or tan-colored, all-terrain vehicles maneuvering through the country's rocky, dusty terrain, hauling equipment and personnel from one place to another.
There are several commercial variants being used throughout Afghanistan. Despite their actual brand name, they are commonly referred to as "gators." Individual vehicles are designed with different special features, from blackout lights to litter-carrying capabilities, but overall, their uses are similar.
Gators are about the size of a small golf cart, feature an automatic transmission and require no special training to operate. Those deployed to Forward Operating Base Ripley use the gator primarily for logistical purposes such as picking up mail, passengers and equipment from the flightline, transporting food and fuel cans to locations all over the base. Coalition members are also using them to get to different locations throughout the base.
"We use this piece of equipment every day for a lot of different things," said Staff Sgt. Charlie Pepin, 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, personnel noncommissioned officer. "This base is pretty big, so if we want to get in contact with one of the units, we use this piece of equipment to get to them."
"It's a valuable asset for an infantry unit. Period. Regardless if it's a heavy unit or a light unit," said Task Force Bobcat Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Leota.
Using the gator also requires less time and manpower to accomplish daily missions than other methods.
"Normally we'd have to resource a vehicle, such as a (high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle), or HMMWV and a trailer, with of course a vehicle commander -- or a TC -- and a driver and Soldiers to help unload the supplies. (The gator) can take one person or two to load the supplies and get (them) to where (they) need to go in a pretty good time," said Leota.
The gator runs on diesel or gas fuel and uses much less than HMMWVs and civilian vehicles. It is cost efficient, mobile, and light, allowing it to maneuver quickly and easily into tight spaces or along narrow roadways, reaching areas a truck or HMMWV could not easily get to. With its increasing popularity comes the issue of safety for those operating the equipment. Drivers and passengers are required to wear a ballistic helmet and eye protection while driving, in addition to reflective belts. Operators are also required to receive instruction from unit safety noncommissioned officers, including proper operating procedures, the importance of wearing the right safety gear while driving, and limitations of the vehicle.
For all its many benefits and convenience, the gator is proving to be a small but powerful tool for Coalition members serving throughout Afghanistan.