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Fort Bragg Replaces An Iconic Humvee

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The pandemic has the military reassessing budgetary priorities. But at Fort Bragg, troops have just been issued a replacement for an iconic, but not exactly loved, piece of military hardware. Jay Price of member station WUNC reports.

JAY PRICE, BYLINE: The U.S. military's light truck has been a part of popular culture for generations. In World War II, the troops had the vehicle general purpose, or GP - the jeep. After the war, that small, almost friendly-looking four-wheel-drive convertible found a new place in the American peacetime imagination.

DAN NEIL: The jeep came out of war, but it had this civilian life starting with Western lore, Western pop culture of the '50s, the cowboy culture.

PRICE: Dan Neil is The Wall Street Journal's automotive critic.

NEIL: It was very popular to imagine it as a ranch vehicle, as a - as an alternative to the horse. What was the radio and later TV shows?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE ROY ROGERS SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As narrator) "The Roy Rogers Show," starring Roy Rogers, king of the cowboys.

PRICE: The wholesome king of the cowboys had a comic sidekick who drove and talked to his jeep, named Nellybelle.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE ROY ROGERS SHOW")

PAT BRADY: (As Pat Brady) Oh, come on now, Nellybelle. At least you can go down the hill.

PRICE: Then in the 1980s, the military got the Humvee. The wide, distinctive-looking Hummer had a high-profile role in the first Gulf War and got a star turn on the American highway after a certain actor lobbied the manufacturer to sell it to civilians.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY")

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: (As The Terminator) Hasta la vista, baby.

PRICE: The Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Again, automotive critic Dan Neil.

NEIL: It was war brought home. It was a war-making machine available to ordinary drivers. A jeep as a cultural object - people that self-identify with the independence, the freedom, all of the meanings that are associated with jeep. And Hummer, Humvee also has a different set of values, a different set of association.

PRICE: Some loved the civilian version. Some hated it. It was hard to drive and park and guzzled fuel. The military version has a harsh ride and cramped interior. The air conditioning often fails. Worse, it's vulnerable to roadside bombs. Neil, the automotive critic, spent time in Humvees in Iraq and the U.S.

NEIL: The Humvee drove like badly designed agricultural equipment. If I were a farmer and I had bought a tractor that drove like the Humvee, I would've taken it back to the tractor company and said, I want my money back.

PRICE: Now, though, the military has started to replace Humvees with the JLTV, or Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. Just before the pandemic struck, U.S. Special Operations Command took delivery of some, including this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR IGNITION TURNING)

PRICE: A specialist named Garrett (ph) - just first names for special operations troops - took one for a spin.

It's nice.

GARRETT: It is nice. It rides a lot more comfortable. It's a lot more spacious.

PRICE: The JLTV is larger, more powerful and features a bomb-resistant body, built-in night vision, satellite communications and automatic fire suppression in the cabin.

Gary Gill (ph) is with the manufacturer Oshkosh Defense. He was at Fort Bragg to help with the rollout of the new truck.

GARY GILL: You would be able to hit those potholes and, you know, tree stumps, whatever, and the suspension is going to absorb all of the shock.

PRICE: The JLTV even has features civilian drivers are used to, like a backup camera and something else that Gill points out.

GILL: This is the first military truck ever to incorporate cup holders.

PRICE: Army officials say the pandemic has slowed the rollout of the new truck to a crawl. But thousands more are on order and eventually will bring better protection, technology and cup holders to the troops.

For NPR News, this is Jay Price at Fort Bragg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jay Price is the military and veterans affairs reporter for North Carolina Public Radio - WUNC.