Before now poetry has taken notice
Of wars, and what are wars but politics
Transformed from chronic to acute and bloody?
from "Build Soil"
Robert Frost

Monday, April 16, 2007

Venting Steam

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.


  1. Er, ah...

    Is this what I'm not supposed to see?

    By the way, that was two clicks at flickr; I wonder what I'll find on Google...

  2. Or here:

    I'm amazed at what military leaders don't want posted or put out in the open...

    No name & no picture?

  3. Anonymous16/4/07 17:03

    The reason why you're bosses said not totalk about the BUFFALO is because of your position as a member of the military using such a tool. Anything you say about it constitutes an experts POV, confirming it's capabilities, and therefore the possibility of that information being used against it. Despite the fact that it's plastered all over the media. For instance, I encounter all sorts of stuff about subs on the web that if I were to say yea or nay about the accuracy of the information could constitute a breach of security. Therefore, I cannot comment either way.

    If I said that information about a US submarines installed equipment at the "All Subs" (fictitional) website was inaccurate, then that would be giving someone unscrupulous another piece of the puzzle about US subs.

    Therefore, they tell you not to talk about the BUFFALO.

    Your blog is great, I love it. It's in my blogroll. Thank you for you service. I am eternally grateful.

  4. Anonymous16/4/07 18:55

    I think you'll find that the BUFFALO used in the film is a 3D model made in a software application like Maya or XSI, using photos as reference.
    For close-ups involving live action, they undoubtedly used a mock-up.

    So I think there is likely no reason for you to feel cheated. They probably only had access to a real BUFFALO for a few hours, at most, to take (carefully screened) reference photos.


  5. Sonarman-

    I didn't make myself clear enough in that first section. I don't want to post about the BUFFALOs track record. I want someone high enough to make decisions like that to tell America just a little about the work the BUFFALO does.


    Once again- I didn't clarify a point that I should have expanded on. I was a little rushed. :)

    The news article I spoke of early in this post specified that the company that produces BUFFALOs lent one to the filmmaker for a period of at least two months.

  6. Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 04/17/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

  7. I concur with th PR issue. That's we are not succeeding.

    All the best to you guys.


  8. Anonymous17/4/07 13:30

    Thanks for the clarification. Yeah... that does suck.

  9. Your new so you would probably have no way of knowing, but the military has been losing the pr war for a long time. Mostly by silencing their best and most popular representatives. I myself have vented steam on the subject many times. It was even one of the motivations to start my own blog. So you can get an idea how long that has been by looking at my archive.

    All I can say is don't hold your breath, it wont work.

  10. Anonymous18/4/07 12:55

    1. Acute Politics in a documentary.
    2. Buffalo in the news.

    1. The PBS documentary _America at a crossroads_ flashed the opening webpage for Acute Politics in its second segment. Only one other site was so honored. Kudos.

    The documentary featured writings from soldiers and marines recently returned from Iraq. No writing from anyone still in a combat zone, but they did follow a light colonel around for a day and followed three soldiers on missions.

    The documentary painted the IA and the IP as corrupt, inept, and unreliable. The footage included an exchange between IA soldiers at a raid discussing a cache of weapons and ammo the Americans had not found and that the IA soldiers were not going to reveal. The narrative said they got the footage translated only after they returned stateside.

    2. The MSM featured the Buffalo in a short segment including a clip of a Buffalo surviving an explosion directly beneath the vehicle. One wonders what the situation is in South Africa that they already had such a vehicle on the assembly line.

  11. Anonymous19/4/07 11:06

    antares, in fairness to the documentary, the time period they were covering (2005) Iraqi forces then were a lot worse than they are now. They've made great strides since then.
    Claims of corruption, ineptitude and unreliability were hard to deny in the time period. I would imagine that this is simply to be expected with any army or police force that young (let alone those with insurgents attempting to infiltrate and subvert CF, IA, and IP efforts).

  12. Anonymous20/4/07 22:58

    Hello, I found your blog via Blackfive and think it is great.

    I was in NM a few months back and while there learned they filmed part of the Transformers movie at Holloman Air Force Base.

    Here is a link to my blog that includes an Air Force video of the making of the movie. It includes an interview with the director Michael Bay.

    I don't know if it has a BUFFALO in it or not.

    Thanks for writing such a great blog.


  13. Hi TD, had and e-mail from Randy and Janet who are traveling, passing through my home town. I hope to meet them, we are all family you know.

  14. Anonymous23/4/07 07:52

    hey, thanks for all that you are doing out there, i appreciate your willingness to let random people live through you in iraq. the blog is great.

  15. Anonymous24/4/07 21:33

    The BUFFALO was on Modern Marvels about 4 months ago. It was a brief segment probably no longer than 3 min. It did however show the exterior, inside, the seating area and some basic details as to the nature and funtion of it's design.

  16. Anonymous6/5/07 23:33

    Google this:
    buffalo vehicle

    The 2nd link gives 2 exterior photos and one interior.
    The 3rd link is the manufacturer's site, has photos, videos and spec sheet.
    The 4th link is a Stars&Stripes article with a picture in Abu Ghraib.

    If you can't post a picture, can you post a link?


  17. Teflon Don,
    I just saw the transformers movie. I am on the internet right now looking for a good reason why these guys were able to get a functional Buffalo for their movie but I cannot get one to train my soldiers. In my search I found a blog post from some kid who stumbled upon the filming sight and snapped a couple photos of what appears to be a fully functional model. Here is the link:

    So that answers the questions about whether or not this is a real buffalo and not CG or mock-up.

    About the time you were making this post from Iraq, I was training with my platoon at the NTC on the 5-tom buffalo mock-ups they now have there. They made for pretty decent training in the abscence of the real deal. But I have heard all the same reasons to explain the unavailability of buffalos for training. I was pretty upset to see it used in this movie. I wonder how many lives that buffalo would have saved had it been at work in Iraq and not working for the pleasure of American audiences.

    Stay safe over there. Hopefully we will be over to replace you in a couple of months. Godspeed.