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What has 8 wheels and a big machine gun? That rig coming to rescue you from a flood.

A Stryker vehicle heads out for a drill at the Yakima Training Center last week. The Washington National Guard is switching from tanks to Strykers, which leaders say better fit the Guard’s needs.
A Stryker vehicle heads out for a drill at the Yakima Training Center last week. The Washington National Guard is switching from tanks to Strykers, which leaders say better fit the Guard’s needs. The Seattle Times

The Washington National Guard’s 81st Brigade is switching from tanks to lighter-armored Stryker vehicles, which the Guard says are better for quickly moving through the state’s roads and terrain.

“The whole idea behind the Strykers is speed and agility,” said Capt. Kelly Sowder, a new-equipment training officer in charge at the military’s Yakima Training Center.

The Stryker vehicles, which started arriving from Hawaii in March, have eight large wheels and the capability to carry a .50-caliber machine gun. The Guard hopes to complete its conversion to Strykers by September.

81st leaders said the switch makes sense.

During natural disasters such as earthquakes, Strykers, unlike tanks, can be used to carry civilians to safety. During flooding, they can drive through four to five feet of water. During riots or other incidents of civil unrest, they’re small and nimble enough to fit on city streets.

“They’re the premier fighting platform,” said Lt. Col. Kristin Derda, a commander of the 181st Brigade Support Battalion, which provides logistical and medical support for the 81st.

The Guard’s soldiers still are training with the new vehicles.

That involves weeks of studying the vehicles’ capabilities and specifications in a classroom and then learning to drive them, often with yellow “student driver” signs plastered on the front. Soldiers also learn how to maintain the vehicles and shoot from them, Sowder said.

Spc. Tyler Souders got his first chance to drive a Stryker during recent training at the Army’s Yakima Training Center.

“For a lot of us, this is the first time even touching a Stryker,” Souders said.

The Oregon and California National Guard also will be receiving Stryker vehicles from Hawaii.

Each Stryker cost about $2 million to build.

They were introduced in the early 2000s as a new generation of troop carriers and were battle-tested in both urban-combat zones in Mosul, Iraq, and remote parts of Afghanistan.

They were designed to provide better protection against roadside bombs, and later models were outfitted with V-shaped bottoms to deflect blasts. The Stryker fleet the Guard is receiving doesn’t have that modification.

The 81st Brigade is the second National Guard unit in the United States to acquire Strykers after Pennsylvania, according to a National Guard spokesman. They also are used by active-duty units at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

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