Friday, October 16, 2015

Sheriff SHOAR Acquired "Unarmed Tank" in 2006 Through Pentagon's 1033 Program

Sheriff's Office acquires its own armored vehicle

St. Johns is 1 of 30 counties to have an unarmed tank

Published Saturday, February 11, 2006
click photo to enlarge 
DEP. ANTHONY WRIGHTSMAN adjusts his helmet before driving the Sheriff's Office's all-terrain vehicle Thursday. Photos by MADELYN TROYANEK,
The training exercise was a school shooting hostage situation. Deputies covered the ground playing victims to be rescued while negotiators worked to disarm the shooter.
In a similar real-life situation, the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office All-Terrain Recovery Vehicle, an amphibious M113 armored personnel carrier, would be useful.
"It can go anywhere it needs to go to get to somebody," said Sheriff's Major Chuck West, who is in charge of special operations.
During the drill, the 11-ton bullet-proof vehicle was able to get to the victims and get out safely. It is basically mobile cover, West said.
The Sheriff's Office got the vehicle through a military surplus program for $2,000. Helicopters, weapons and tents also have been acquired through the program.
click photo to enlarge 
Deputies train at Camp Blanding recently in their all-terrain vehicle. Courtesy of St. Johns County Sheriff's Office
"We pick these things up for literally pennies on the dollar of what they are worth," West said.
It was after the 2004 hurricanes that the Sheriff's Office began looking into getting the recovery vehicle.
The tracks allow it to get over debris an SUV wouldn't be able to, and it can travel in hurricane conditions if a rescue is necessary, West said.
"Then we don't have to worry about blowing tires out everywhere," West said.
When he initially looked into the M113, he wondered if it was really a necessity. But after reviewing possible uses, West knew it would benefit the community, he said.
St. Johns is now one of the 30 counties in the state to have an unarmed tank. Recently one was used in Osceola County during a hostage bank robbery, West said.In the 1960s, about 80,000 M113s were built, many of which are still in use."Some of the military people refer to it as a bucket because of the noisy ride," West said.It has 200 horsepower, runs on diesel fuel, travels at 35 to 40 mph and can withstand bullets. Rubber pads on the tracks make it road-friendly.Deputies also tested it to make sure it would float. In water, the speed is reduced to 3 mph.For about a year, deputies including those on the SWAT team have been training to use the recovery vehicle.Currently, Deputy Anthony Wrightsman is the only driver. He learned to drive one while in the U.S. Marine Corps.The assault vehicle he operated was about twice the size, but identical in how it was run, he said."It has less capabilities, but is great for what it will be used for," Wrightsman said.If it is used to rescue someone just once, it is worthwhile to have, he added.This weekend, radios are being installed and in the future, thermal imaging or a water tank that could help fight fires may be added, West said.While the vehicle could be equipped with weapons, it is not going to be. That is not how it is going to be used, West said."It's really like a Swiss Army knife of an all-terrain vehicle," West said. "You can really do anything."

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