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Cougar roars through Iraq

8 Apr 2006 | Cpl. William Skelton

Marines with 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment’s engineer platoon are riding in style in their new Cougar HEV.

The Cougar Hardened Engineer Vehicle was designed specifically for combat engineers. Its development originated from the knowledge gained during the war in Iraq.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Cpl. Ronald P. Griffith, a 30-year-old assistant squad leader from Houston. “It’s supposed to be the new wave of the future for engineers.”

The Cougar isn’t your average road ride.  It’s a hulking beast of a truck, wider than an average off-road truck and almost as long a school bus. It bears reinforced steel and bullet proof glass, enough to outweigh a couple elephants. The Cougar is designed to protect an entire squad of engineers safely in its cab.  Improvised explosive devices are an afterthought.

“The Cougar will hold a squad of Marines comfortably inside,” Griffith said. “The seats have four-point seat harnesses to hold the passengers in place if they hit an IED.”  

Engineers received the Cougar just prior to the battalion shifting to support the Army in the towns and villages surrounding Abu Ghraib. The Cougar seems to be a hit among the engineers of the battalion.

“This thing is like an armored vehicle for Marines,” said Lance Cpl. Gabriel H. Garza, a 19-year-old electrician from Willcox, Ariz. “It’s a lot safer and a lot higher off the ground compared to humvees.”

Combat engineers have many jobs while in support of a battalion on a deployment. They build and reinforce structures, search for weapons caches and occasionally check out IEDs.

“The primary means for the Cougar is for engineers to be able to identify IEDs before foot soldiers move into an area,” Griffith said.

One complaint with the Cougar is the air conditioning system, which recirculates air in the passenger compartment. Temperatures in the summer can soar well over 110 degrees in country.  That can mean some ripe rides for sweaty Marines.

“The Cougar has a closed air system,” Griffith said. “It recirculates the same air over.  You don’t realize it until you open a door and get the fresh air hitting you in the face.”

Still, engineer have kicked the tires and popped the hood and so far, they like what they see.

“With the way it’s designed and the thought process behind it, I think the Cougar will be effective,” Griffith said.