Think about a commercial for the Toyota Land Cruiser. We’ve all seen them. What do you see in your mind’s eye? A rugged, yet clean vehicle with lots of cargo space that rides as smooth in the city as it does offroad? An approachable song, likely with guitars of some sort in the background. You know what I’m talking about. The auto manufacturer does a great job of providing an idea of what their trucks can be. However, you’ll likely not find Toyota or any auto manufacturer making a big fuss about the use of their vehicles in the Middle East equipped with weaponry fitting for a warzone. However, these things happen. During the 2021 Kabul airlift, a few warfighters wanted to make sure everyone remembered this unique part of history. So, they got creative.
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How a Toyota Land Cruiser Got From Kabul, Afghanistan to Fort Liberty, North Carolina
There are few guarantees in life, but you are unlikely to spot a Toyota Land Cruiser with Russian anti-aircraft guns on the road or at your local dealership. Yet, soon enough, you will find one at the 82nd Airborne Division Museum at Fort Liberty, NC.
A Toyota Land Cruiser military outfitted in Afghanistan is going to be on display. It was evacuated by paratroopers from Hamid Karzai International Airport after Army Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue’s request.
The 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment got to the Hamid Karzai International Airport with an unfortunate problem: they were at a hostile evacuation with no heavy vehicles.
But bartering has been around for several thousands of years. While the Paratroopers couldn’t just go to the Kabul Toyota dealership, they did find a truck with a Russian-made 14.5 mm ZPU-2 anti-aircraft gun.
It’s unclear what the Kelley Blue Book value is on the truck, but the Paratroopers were able to secure the Toyota Land Cruiser for two packs of tobacco dip. A pretty fair trade, depending on who you ask.
Toyota Land Cruiser military vehicles drive similarly to civilian vehicles. But, operating the weaponry is complex. Luckily, Army Pfc. Alsajjad Al Lami served in the Iraqi military for six months and knew how to use it. Al Lami was promised a promotion to Specialist because of his knowledge.
However, the trip for the Toyota Land Cruiser from Afghanistan wasn’t simple, and we’re not even talking about just getting the truck halfway around the world during a dangerous evacuation.
Before making its way stateside, the military-armored Toyota Land Cruiser was stored for years at Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait. From there, troops got creative finding a path to the United States.
Complications and Fake News
More and more personnel were leaving Ali Al Salem. There were also conflicts regarding points of view on whether or not the United States should take the truck. This is far from an isolated incident as many instances in many countries have protested the idea of war trophies and stolen artifacts around the world.
Then there were the rumors. Although Donahue wanted the truck stateside, he didn’t want it bad enough to keep humans in need of help off. It’s a silly notion as the point of Operation Allies Refuge was to rescue people, not trucks.
Nevertheless, people were claiming that evacuees were denied room so that the military Toyota Land Cruiser could fit on a C-17. However, this was just a rumor that thankfully never happened.
Ultimately, the truck landed itself in a storage container and was forgotten about until Army Reserve Capt. Max Schneider found it, got customs clearance, and organized efforts with other troops to clean up the vehicle that had clearly seen action.
Fort Liberty Toyota Land Cruiser Display About Much More Than a Truck
It’s easy to look at a truck and think not much more of it. But the fact remains, the vehicle isn’t just another trophy of war or piece of equipment. The overarching story involves getting the job done regardless of the obstacles.
This doesn’t just include the mission itself but also the commitment from Soldiers to get the Toyota Land Cruiser stateside after all of those years. The 82nd Airborne Division Gallery will display the truck and preserve the mission in Kabul as well as the nature of our warfighters when it opens. The timeline is hopeful for the expansion to open sometime in 2025.