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Staff Sgt. Christopher Fessenden is on duty in
Afghanistan now after tours with the Army in Iraq. He
has traveled with standard-issue equipment --
weapons, helmet, uniform, boots and so forth -- plus
a radio-controlled model truck his brother sent.
The truck is not a toy to him. He says it just saved six
"We cannot thank you enough," said Sgt. Fessenden in
an email from the front that his brother Ernie, a
software engineer in Rochester, Minn., shared with
The little truck was used by the troops to run ahead
of them on patrols and look for roadside bombs.
Fessenden has had it since 2007, when Ernie and
Kevin Guy, the owner of the Everything Hobby shop
in Rochester, rigged it with a wireless video camera
and shipped it to him.
Last week, it paid off. Chris Fessenden said he had
loaned the truck to a group of fellow soldiers, who
used it to check the road ahead of them on a patrol. It
got tangled in a trip wire connected to what
Fessenden guesses could have been 500 lbs. of
explosives. The bomb went off. The six soldiers
controlling the truck from their Humvee were unhurt.
"Monday morning, Ernie comes running into my store
and says, 'You're not going to believe this,'" said Guy,
recounting the story in a telephone interview.
"I got an email from [Chris] that said, 'Hey, man, I'm
sorry, but the truck is gone,'" said Ernie, admitting he
still found it all pretty hard to believe. "The neat thing
is that the guys in the Humvee were all right."
A Traxxis Stampede
The military does what it can to protect its troops in
Iraq and Afghanistan, but IEDs, or Improvised
Explosive Devices, have been a constant danger.
Ernie says he once asked Chris, "Doesn't the army
have ways of checking for these things?" The answer:
"If it does, I don't know about them."
That was what led Ernie and Kevin to send the model
truck, a brand called a Traxxis Stampede. After they
added the video camera, with a small monitor Chris
could mount on his rifle, Kevin guesses the total cost
came to about $500.
In his email, Chris Fessenden said the little truck has
successfully found four IEDs since he first got it.
"We do mounted patrols, in trucks, and dismounted
by foot," he wrote. "The funny thing is the Traxxis
does faster speeds than the trucks we are operating in
under the governing speed limit... so the traxxis
actually keeps up with us and is able to advance past
us and give us eyes on target before we get there."
"Is it a toy?" he wrote. "Yeah it is...is it fun...
absolutely... but the guys here take the truck very
seriously when out on [a] mission."
Replacement Truck on the Way
"I've talked to my brother a number of times and he
says anything they get, from a letter to a bag of
peanuts, it makes them feel great," said Ernie. "And
then if you send them something cool like this, that
helps them do their job and keeps them safe... There's
just no way of explaining that. It's such a great
Kevin joined in: "For us, that's what it's all about -- a
advertisement Afghanistan War: Hobbyists' Toy Truck Saves 6 Soldiers' Lives
bunch of guys over there trying to make a difference."
They had already been trying to send Chris a new
truck; the Stampede was wearing out. Kevin said he
will donate one through a nonprofit group he helped
organize, Fuel My Brain. They had tried to raise some
money over the weekend at a county fair near
Rochester, but had come away with all of six dollars.
That was before they had a story to tell about the six
"That's just unreal," said Kevin. "That's six mothers
that six guys are going home to."
"Do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from your friend's forehead."