Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Mechanics

SSG Hausauer and SGT Resindez of Bravo Company maintenance section, lift a new Bradley transmission controller into place.

FALLUJAH, ANBAR, IRAQ - Normally, mechanics at the company level are just responsible for basic servicing: oil, tires, light repairs, basic stuff. For anything serious, they just pass it on up the chain to the next higher level of maintenance.

The vehicle's operator is responsible for first level maintenance: known as Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services (PMCS). This basically means checking the oil, and making sure the lights work.

Company level maintenance is second level and the next level is the battalion, or "third shop" as it colloquially known in the Army. There are additional levels beyond the third shop, ending at "depot level" maintenance. This same scheme applies to all Army equipment, such as radios and weapons, not just vehicles.

Bravo Company is technically part of the larger 2nd Battalion 136th Infantry, but the rest of the battalion is located on another base several hours away on the other side of Fallujah. And so practically Bravo Company has been on it's own as far as it's normal maintenance chain. Fortunately, Camp Fallujah is a major Marine Corps headquarters, and there are higher level Marine Corps maintenance units available to help out the Bravo mechanics.

However, according to SSG Hausauer, a Bravo Company mechanic, the third shop on Camp Fallujah was so slow, that after the first month they just started doing higher level maintenance themselves. They ordered additional tools and manuals, and started teaching themselves how to do things.

The Bravo Company mechanics were trained as Bradley Fighting Vehicle mechanics, and didn't have any previous experience working on HMMV's, but they dug in and figured it out. Over time they worked their way up to doing most major HMMV maintenance themselves including replacing engines. SGT Resindez the chief troubleshooter, figuring out many of the new problems as they came along.

The Marines don't use the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and so there weren't any other Bradley mechanics on Camp Fallujah to turn to. The Bravo Company mechanics started figuring out the high level maintenance tasks on this vehicle as well, including pulling turrets.

Every several weeks the mechanics have had to go "outside the wire" with their tracked tank retriever, to recover vehicles that had broken down, or been damaged by IED's. Normally when they head out to do a recovery they have a security element provided by the Camp Fallujah Quick Reaction Force (QRF), which is staffed 24 hours a day by Bravo Company soldiers.

Trips outside the wire to recover battle damaged vehicles are real combat missions into hostile areas, and the mechanics have to be prepared. In addition Camp Fallujah experienced frequent indirect fire attacks (mortars and rockets) during the first 9 months that Bravo Company was there. Including having mortar shells land right outside the motor pool.

During the Iraq summer with temperatures climbing to over 120 degrees, and the Bravo Company mechanics experimented with working nights, in an effort to stay cooler. Unfortunately, the Marines were only working days, and they couldn't get parts or deal with issued that required help from the Marines at night, and so they ended up continuing to work days in the scorching heat.

With the pending move to TQ, it is unclear what the Bravo Company mechanics will be responsible for, during the final four months of their extended tour.

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Day by Day, by Chris Muir (updated daily)

Chris Muir is the cartoonist that I met in Kuwait. He spent two weeks in Iraq at the same time I was there in February 2007, and so thought it would relevant to showcase his work on my site. Here is a link to Chris' humorous travelogue of this Iraq trip: