Student drivers cut the lights

30 Jun 2005 | Sgt. Tracee L. Jackson

Marines from II Marine Expeditionary Unit Motor Transport conducted blackout-driving training for the Marines of  6th Civil Affairs Group here June 30. The evolution was part of a two-week course to qualify each of the 21 students for a humvee license, making them one step closer to deployment readiness.

When most people think of night driving, they usually think of headlights. However, to operate tactical vehicles headlights aren’t always an option.

“We’re doing blackout driving,” said Lance Cpl. Robert J. Hancock, a maintenance management specialist and student of the course, explains,

“Any time you’re driving at night in a tactical situation, noise discipline can’t really apply, but when light discipline is needed in a tactical situation, you would do this,” said the native of Fort Hill, S.C.

“Mainly, we’re driving with about two feet of visibility in front of the hood. Being the lead vehicle, that makes it a little difficult. There are no big brake lights or tail lights to follow,” said Hancock.

The convoy of six Hummers traveled through several unpaved roads throughout Camp LeJeune without night vision goggles, stopping only to give each student a chance behind the wheel.

Cpl. Christopher E. Johnson, II MEF motor transport licensing non-commissioned officer and instructor of the course, explained students aren’t sent into the trees blind, though it literally seems that way.

“If students pay attention in the class, they’ll be able to keep the vehicle on the road,” he said, “It’s something you have to practice.”

Johnson estimated students have approximately 10 feet of visibility in front of the vehicle. Any vehicle that’s not in front has the benefit of following the “cat eyes”, or small red lights on the rear of the hummer in front of them. Night vision goggles are not always available in a real-world situation, so the students drive unaided, he said.

Lance Cpl. Jason L. Joyce, also a student at the course and personnel clerk by trade from Stokesdale, N.C., had the benefit of not leading up the convoy. However, he had a new set of issues to work with.

“When we first started off, my night vision wasn’t that great,” he said, “but that got better.”

“We took a class and learned how to follow the cat eyes and how to know if you’re too close,” he said. “You have to trust the truck in front of you not to run off the road.”

Lance Cpl. Zachary M. Coward, a fellow student driver from Charlotte, N.C., agreed.

“When you’re driving one of these, you have to get used to it. I normally drive an (Honda) Acura. With this, you have to really step on the gas to go and the brakes are really sensitive. This is one of those vehicles you always wish you could drive, and when you actually get to drive it, it’s a lot of fun,” he said.

Students of the course must log in a total of 250 miles and pass a written test to attain their licenses. Blackout driving is possibly the most difficult portion of the practical application exam, but other areas covered in the course include on and off-base driving during the day and night (with headlights).

The Marines of 6th CAG are eager to employ their licenses where they’re needed most.

“We’re getting ready to go to Iraq,” said Hancock, “I want to drive when I get there.”
However, while in the learning stages, “it can be a really bumpy ride,” he said.