Last summer, Stephen was in Afghanistan when his MATV hit an IED. He and his fellow soldiers were thankfully perfectly fine, but it was a jarring experience none the less. Fast forward to this summer – the good people at Oshkosh Defense, where MATVs and other military vehicles are made, read my story and invited me out to see where the magic happens at their factory in Wisconsin. I was hesitant at first. I’m not really a fan of putting myself in situations where I don’t know what to expect. I prefer the routine, the familiar, the quiet and comfortable. Before I could talk myself out of it, I agreed to attending because I knew I’d regret it if I missed this opportunity. The good people at Oshkosh paid for my travel and hotel (and treated me like a queen!), but as always everything you read here is my opinion.
I was picked up by Alex, who works for Oshkosh and spent the day with me. Together we hit a local coffee shop for some early morning caffeine. I loved how friendly the people of the town were. Even strangers were saying hello and wishing me a happy day! I knew we were off to a good start.
The first stop at Oshkosh was the E-Coat factory. This is where all the materials used in the vehicles are painted and treated. There is a very technical chemical process. It looks like a giant carwash that unassembled parts are run through. I even got to see screens where they monitor and make sure everything is running smoothly. The special treatment used on the parts helps increase their durability. It was explained to me that even if they are scratched, the scratch won’t spread because of the chemical process. I thought it was so cool to see the care taken even in regard to the teeniest parts.
We then toured a different plant located right next door where the vehicles are assembled. I got to walk along the factory store and see the chassis turn into MATVs (or other vehicles – I saw cement trucks, fire trucks, all kinds of things) ready to roll off the lot. I was most surprised that everything is put together by people. In my mind, I envisioned an old school conveyor belt whirling and whizzing with machines doing all the hard work. Once again, I saw the passion and care used to put these great products together. I thought it was touching that the thing that keeps my husband safe when he is down range is carefully put together by a person and not a robot.
The next portion of the day involved me getting to ride around in a MATV on the test track! Stephen thought it was pretty funny that I went all the way to Wisconsin to ride in a MATV when they are all over Fort Bliss and are really NBD to him. The irony wasn’t lost on me. I still thought it was pretty awesome. I strapped into the front passenger seat (the seat belt is a 5 point harness – I kept calling it the car seat) while an experienced driver did the driving. It was bananas! We went up a 50% incline. Then we drove down the 50% incline. To me, it looked straight down. The driver kept warning me that gravity might take over and instead of stopping we’d go fast fast fast. Thankfully that didn’t happen; he seemed in control the whole time as far as I could tell. There was also a 60% incline (eep!) but it was mercifully too muddy for us to drive on. We drove sideways on a 30% incline, we bulldozed over rocky terrain, we even drove up and over an 18 inch vertical wall. I had no idea that MATVs could do all that!
Then…drumroll…we switched seats! I buckled into the driver’s seat and they let me drive! To say I was hesitant is an understatement. After all the inclines and bumps and thumps and scariness of riding in the MATV, I wasn’t up for much. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t at least try. So I drove less than a quarter of a mile before putting it back in park. Haha! The driver encouraged me to drive more and told me I could go over any part of the course I wanted. I had had my fill! That little bit was plenty. I was already impressed with the company and the assembly process and the MATV in general.
The final activity of the day (other than lunch!) was a brief interview. There was a cameraman with legit cameras and the fuzzy microphone. (They even had little cameras inside the MATV a la The Amazing Race! I was living the dream!) I was asked a few easy breezy questions about who I am and my affiliation with the Army, the pros and cons of military life. I then spoke about Stephen’s accident. I hope that I came across sincere because I really do appreciate the hard work of the Oshkosh employees. It was scary knowing that after his truck hit the IED, he had months remaining in his deployment and many similar missions ahead of him. I had the peace of mind knowing that if he was in his vehicle, he had a certain level of protection. (Let’s be real, I always worried about him and never felt he was safe, but at least I knew the truck could take a hit.) It means even more seeing that each part is assembled by an individual. I’m sure they (like everyone else) have days when they aren’t loving their jobs. I just hope they know how much what they do means to families like mine. It’s because of them that Stephen’s accident is a non-story instead of a tragedy.
I was treated to lunch and then was whisked away back to the airport. This is hands down the coolest thing that has happened to me as a result of my blog. I’m so thankful to Oshkosh for what they do day in and day out, as well as hooking me up with this awesome trip!