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Oil-Stained Mechanics Keep Infantry Moving

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 4, 2006 – The infantry isn't going to move far without help from a bunch of oil-stained soldiers. Just 11 soldiers are responsible for keeping the vehicles of Task Force 1-36 here running.

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Army Pfc. Guillermo Armendariz and Pfc. James Vail work to change an engine in a Bradley fighting vehicle in Hit, Iraq, June 3. Photo by Jim Garamone
  

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In this environment, it's a particularly tough job. Sand and dust clog intakes and contaminate oil. The infantrymen are driving the vehicles as much in a month as they used to in a year. The desert heat makes materials do strange things.

The soldiers maintain Bradley fighting vehicles, Abrams tanks, uparmored M-1114 Humvees and the battalion's trucks. They have an amazing availability rate - 98 percent of the task force's vehicles are available for use at any given time. "We do everything we can to make sure our friends have what they need, when they need it," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Cruz Garcia, maintenance chief for Apache Company, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry, in an interview yesterday. "Our motto is, 'What else can we do?'"

The maintenance area is in the parking lot of a train station outside this city in the Euphrates River valley. Temperatures soar to 120 degrees, and even the asphalt seems to melt at midday. The smell of oil and gas permeates the air so strongly that even the Iraqis - for whom smoking is a seemingly universal cultural pastime - seem loath to light up.

But the mechanics do what needs to be done to keep vehicles up and running in prime condition. The task force comes under the U.S. Marines based at nearby Al Asad airfield. Because the Marines don't have Bradley fighting vehicles, maintaining the parts supply for the Bradleys has taxed Garcia's ingenuity, but he has risen to the challenge. Before coming up to the area, he and others scavenged through the boneyard in Kuwait, removing useable parts from vehicles too damaged to use before they moved up to Iraq. This kept them supplied until the supply system started working, Garcia said.

But even then, the mechanics used some not-in-the-book solutions on top of just plain hard work to surmount all their difficulties. For example, one of the mechanics owns a custom car shop, and he came up with a new way to put harnesses in the vehicles.

The mechanics may have to slow up a bit during the summer. The temperatures will top 130 in the parking lot, and their solar shield -- which lets the wind come through but blocks the sun - disappeared in the supply system on its way to the unit. "We'll watch it carefully during the midday hours," Garcia said.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Sgt. 1st Class Cruz Garcia stands next to an engine and transmission being readied for installation in an Abrams tank at Hit, Iraq. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA box of half shafts awaits installation at Hit, Iraq. The mechanics of Apache Company, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry, have maintained a 98 percent availability record under the harshest conditions. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMechanics of the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry, collected these parts from a scrapyard in Kuwait for their Bradley fighting vehicles and Humvees before deploying with the Marines to Hit, Iraq. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA mechanic tightens a bolt in a Humvee at the maintenance area in Hit, Iraq. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Pfc. James Sallee works on a Humvee in the maintenance area at Hit, Iraq. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Sgt. Roy Ketron pries a wheel off a Bradley fighting vehicle while Army Staff Sgt. Kevin McDaniel watches at the maintenance yard in Hit, Iraq. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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