LISBON - Built for the sandy roads of Afghanistan and Iraq, armored vehicles known as the Caiman are finding their way to local law enforcement agencies. The 12-foot tall armored vehicles may soon be visible on the roadways in Columbiana County.
One of 35 Caimans made available in Ohio is now the property of the Columbiana County Sheriff's Office.
"If it saves the life of just one officer or citizen, then it was well worth it," said Sheriff Ray Stone.
From left, EMA Director Luke Newbold, SRT Director Brian McLaughlin, Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Bob Zehetnbauer, Chief Deputy Allan Haueter, and Sheriff Ray Stone. (Salem News photo by Deanne Johnson)
The vehicles were built with thick walls to handle gunfire and even explosives and provide protection to the soldiers and now law enforcement riding inside its V-shaped interior.
When asked about how his department will be using this monstrously large military vehicle, Stone joked it can tear down drug houses. But a serious use Stone said would be a situation with a shooter taking aim at law enforcement or individuals.
For instance if there is a shooter still in a building or an area and there is an injured officer or person lying on the ground, it can be often be impossible to get medical assistance to them. Deputies and members of the county Special Response Team wear bullet proof vests, but often ride in vehicles with no more protection from bullets than any car or truck.
Now with the addition of the Caiman to the sheriff's office equipment, Stone points out someone can drive the Caiman between the shooter and the injured person, which would make it safer to provide that assistance needed to save the life of a downed person.
The vehicle can be used as a shield for law enforcement to get behind while making an approach.
Additionally, the Caiman is air conditioned and heated, which Stone pointed out can be really useful during a situation out in the elements for long periods of time. The vehicle can be used as a command center during a stand off or other operation when law enforcement could be on location far from a warm shelter for a long time.
The SRT began training in the Caiman this week, and it may soon be moving down the roads of Columbiana County hauling up to six police officers. The vehicle, which is the color of a sandstorm, now bears the star logo of the County Sheriff's Office.
It travels on six big tires utilizing all -wheel drive, so even if one tire is flattened, the vehicle will continue. It may look slow, like a tank, but it still reaches road speeds around 70 mph.
Imagine how intimidating it could be to meet this large armored vehicle coming down a road in Columbiana County or headed toward a home during a drug raid or standoff situation.
It also has places where guns can be mounted. It was designed for a convoy of soldiers on patrol in Iraq to be able see and respond with gunfire if needed.
As U.S. troops withdraw from the region, the federal government has many of these $733,000 vehicles still in good condition and without a use. Instead of letting the Caimans sit, become rusty and be without a purpose, the vehicles are being offered to local law enforcement for the cost of shipping them. Stone said he is even hopeful the shipping cost may be covered by a grant in the end.
Chief Deputy Allan Haueter notes the Sheriff's Office Caiman has only 17,000 miles on it. He added the department needs to thank Columbiana County Health Commissioner Wesley Vins for learning about the program and EMA Director Luke Newbold, who used his connections with the Navy to help the county apply for a Caiman vehicle.
Vins was unable to attend a recent event to unveil the sheriff's office Caiman. However, Bob Zehentbauer, the county Public Health Emergency Preparedness coordinator, said Vins expressed to him that he was delighted to be able help another agency in Columbiana County.