By Spc. Chris McCann

10th Mountain Division public affairs

CAMP STRIKER, Iraq One of the top killers of soldiers in Iraq isn't necessarily combat-related.

Since operations began in March of 2003, many soldiers have been killed when they can't escape a Humvee often because it has rolled into one of Iraq's numerous irrigation canals.

When an armored truck is upside-down or on its side, it can take three soldiers to push a door open enough to get out, and if the doors are sunken into the mud, it can be nearly impossible.

"If you go into a canal, there's a really good chance you won't come out alive," said Bill Del Solar, the safety officer for 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.

Del Solar has been working to change that.

Because a soldier's chances of being in a vehicle roll-over are relatively high, and the odds of making it out relatively low, Del Solar worked, during his last rotation to Iraq in 2004 and 2005, to develop what is known as the Rat Claw.

"We were having trouble with vehicles," said Del Solar, who is seeing the fruits of his labor on his second deployment to Iraq. "We saw the combat locks, and that soldiers couldn't get out."

Combat locks keep the doors shut in the event of an improvised explosive device detonation, shielding the passengers. But they make the door harder to open which can be just as deadly.

"The fire chief and I put our heads together to figure out what we could do," Del Solar said. "We realized if you could get your hooks in, you could get the soldiers out."

After some experimentation, they developed the Rat Claw, a flat, steel hook that attaches to almost anything the Humvee's built-in winch or towing hook, a chain set, or aircraft cable. One tug with another vehicle can open the door, or if necessary pull it completely off.

"If you get a little momentum, you can pull anything off," Del Solar said.

From start to finish, the operation takes less than a minute under ideal circumstances.

"In the worst case, from the time the vehicle goes into the water until they can get the door open, three minutes," he said.

The human brain can go three to four minutes without oxygen before suffering damage, he added.

"It's a reasonable amount of time for a rescue," he said.

The 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division had to use the Rat Claw recently when a Humvee was flipped over in an IED explosion. The doors were damaged by the force of the blast, but soldiers were able to open the vehicle and extract their wounded comrades, including Lt. Col. Michael Infanti, their battalion commander.

"I remember I was pinned inside the truck," said Infanti, a Chicago native. "Fuel was dripping on me, I was in pain. But the soldiers did extremely well, and the Rat Claw worked. It took one try and I was out of the vehicle.

"Honestly, I don't know how they would've gotten me out with the equipment we had on hand, if we didn't have the Rat Claw," he said. "I will live to fight again another day."

The Rat Claw can be used to turn a vehicle over or even pull it completely out of a canal.

"We hope it will save lives by making it easier for fellow soldiers to rescue each other," said Del Solar.

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