Support Soldiers Sweat So Combat Soldiers Won't Bleed
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
CAMP TIGERLAND, Iraq, Jan. 28, 2005 On the support side, there is probably no tougher job than extracting the main gun on an M-1A1 Abrams tank.
Spc. Frank Greene tests a power control unit for a Bradley
Fighting Vehicle at the 199th Forward Maintenance Battalion's work area. The
battalion supports all the equipment needs of the Louisiana National Guard's
256th Brigade Combat Team outside Baghdad. Photo by Jim Garamone
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
But the maintenance support team of the 199th Forward Support Battalion here does the job in a tent. Aluminum palettes used to load Air Force C-130 and C-17 cargo jets keep the soldiers out of the mud and dust. The lift is a crane on the back of a heavy expanded mobility tactical truck, which is an Army recovery vehicle.
"You can't send these vehicles back to Kuwait for work. They are needed here, now," said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Wade, maintenance team NCO in charge. "We work as long as needed to make sure equipment goes to the troops going outside the wire in the best shape."
And that's the attitude for all members of the battalion's B Company , which maintains all the vehicles, radios and armament of the 256th Brigade Combat Team of the Louisiana National Guard. The "Tigers" are a 4,000-strong brigade under the operational control of Task Force Baghdad. Soldiers from New York and Minnesota augment the Louisianans. "If the brigade has it, we fix it," said company commander Capt. Mark McCoy.
The company provides direct support of the equipment in the brigade. And it is needed. Iraq is tough on the equipment, said a number of soldiers in the company. Dust, mud, accident and combat losses are compounded by just plain use.
"We drive the vehicles far more than we ever did before," McCoy said. "We use the weapons more, we are constantly on the radios. We monitor all preventive maintenance too."
"The guys who go outside the wire, they do the real work," said Sgt. 1st Class Archie Smith, the NCO in charge of another B Company maintenance support team, referring to missions such as patrols in surrounding civilian communities. "They are the guys kicking in the doors. We just have to make sure that the equipment they take with them works the way it is supposed to."
"We will work the long hours, do whatever it takes to make sure the soldiers on patrol have what they need," said Sgt. 1st Class Resit "Turk" Ozsoy, maintenance control supervisor with the company.
Shop officer 1st lt. Hal Bridges agrees: "No one wants to have someone killed because of a mistake here."
The group would work this way for anyone, but it is reinforced because of the ties of friendship and kinship within the brigade. These Guard soldiers literally went off to the fight in Iraq with their closest friends, brothers, sisters, fathers and sons.
An example is the B Company leadership team. McCoy has known 1st Sgt. David Leonard "since we were this high," he said, pointing to a level around his knee. "We have been through so much together."
At any time, B Company has 500 jobs under way. This is down from when the brigade first came to Tigerland. "I think some of the problems we had breaking in new equipment are over," McCoy said. "Still as soon as we push some out the door, we have more coming in.
The company is looking ahead. Ozsoy said he anticipates the air conditioners in the armored Humvees will be a problem, and they will be an absolute necessity as Iraq heads into summer. "It's not a problem now because it's cool," he said. "But when it gets hot, soldiers will need air conditioners because they can't open the windows: Doesn't make sense to open armored windows, does it?"
The mechanics complain a lot about the design of the M-1114 armored Humvees. They say it adds a lot of work to the maintenance. "I can have the engine out of (a regular Humvee) in about two hours," said one mechanic with the company. "But it'll be six hours at least, to take an engine out of an M-1114."
All soldiers in the company work as long as it takes to repair needed equipment. "It's 24-7 if our guys need it," said Wade. "We owe it to them."