The new Transformers movie is coming out on July 4th. I saw a teaser for it a few days ago, and got a big surprise. One of the Transformers, Bonecrusher, masquerades as a BUFFALO. Yes, the big IED-hunting truck that we drive. My first thought was "Hey, he's a BUFFALO! That's awesome!". After that initial reaction, I got to thinking.
Technically, I am not supposed to post pictures of the BUFFALO. Depending on who you ask, I am not even supposed to mention it by name, yet I find promotion material for a major feature film proudly displaying that sacred grail of American combat vehicles- the BUFFALO. It's not as if the truck merely appears without explanation, either: a little searching on my part turned up a newspaper article about the BUFFALO cameo. The article gave the name of the truck, its designed purpose, the name of the manufacturer, and also quoted some boasting about the BUFFALO's performance in Iraq. Do I think that's a problem? No, I don't. I feel that Americans need to be as informed as possible about what we are doing to combat the IED threat, within reasonable guidelines to maintain security. I routinely receive emails that say something to the effect of "Wow, what you guys do is great! I never knew we had ways to find IEDs. I thought our soldiers just tried to dodge them when they blew up.". The problem that I see is that the American public got more information about the the lives saved by route clearance units because of a fictional movie than they have from the military. We're winning the war on the ground, slowly, but surely, but we're waging a terribly inept battle in our presentation of it. If this war is lost, it will be for wont of good PR, not for wont of heart and success on the part of the fighters.
I need to give the military PAOs some credit. They have really been trying to step up and tell the military side of the tale recently. Adding a YouTube channel was a very good development, as I wrote about before. There are reporters in Al Anbar now who are doing very good work on reporting all the news, both good and bad. Still, there's a long ways to go.
As I continued musing, I had another thought: Transformers was being filmed at the end of 2006- the time when my unit was mobilizing, training, and deploying. We trained for route clearance with a plywood mock up of a BUFFALO wedged into the back of a 5-ton dump truck. I wouldn't call it the most realistic training I ever experienced. Our training at the National Training Center earlier last year in California's Mojave was better, but we didn't have a BUFFALO there, either. The first time most members of my unit touched a BUFFALO was when our boots hit the dust in Ramadi, Iraq. Why, you ask? The reason was good enough- all BUFFALOs were being sent to Iraq. The BUFFALO is a new vehicle for the Army; it was purchased solely because of the emerging IED threat. It takes time to build up assembly lines to provide big, complex vehicles like BUFFALOs. Under those circumstances, you do the best you can to learn, knowing that the actual vehicles are going somewhere they are needed more. Or were they? I can think of one BUFFALO that was neither conducting missions in Iraq, nor training troops in the states. Perhaps the BUFFALO that you will see in a few months in Transformers is a display model, or somehow non-operational. I hope that's the case. I would hate to feel cheated.