CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq --
When the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 8 arrived at al Asad Air Base in western Iraq in early September, they were faced with an immediate challenge: transportation.
THe battalion required a fleet of vehicles to take them to their area of operations to conduct security and stability missions further west on the fringes of Al Anbar province near the Syrian and Jordanian borders.
In the past, battalions arriving in Iraq would normally take over vehicles from another unit which is leaving and conduct a relief in place. According to Capt. Ryan O’Connor, the battalion’s logistics officer, the reserve battalion was conducting a new mission in on the ar-Rutbah district and the Reserve Marines of 2/25 were not replacing a specific unit so there was no fleet of vehicles to fall in on,
“We had to acquire vehicles from other units, mostly ones that needed a lot of work,” said O’Connor, a Charlestown, Mass. native. “When we started out, about 90 percent of them were dead-lined [non-operational]. It was a huge effort to get them up and running.”
One Marine who has taken the lead on ensuring the operational readiness of the battalion’s vehicles over the past four months is Sgt. Isidro Navarro, 25, an active reservist from Huntington Station, N.Y. who is currently serving as the battalion’s maintenance chief.
“Setting up the maintenance shop here from scratch and managing to fix an average of 35 vehicles per month is our greatest accomplishment here,” said Navarro.
Navarro explained that not only do his mechanics fix vehicles throughout the battalion’s area of operations, but they also serve as drivers on convoys.
“I could not have done this if it wasn’t for my Marines,” added Navarro.
With only four school-trained Marine mechanics and dozens of vehicles to take care of, the Reserve Marines of 2/25 were forced to rely on their civilian skills and expertise.
Staff Sgt. William Wentworth, a 36-year-old maintenance chief for Company E, 2/25, has been working on cars and trucks since he was 15 years old.
After finishing a four-year active duty tour in the Marine Corps as a combat engineer, Wentworth started a trucking business in his hometown of Garland, Maine, and performed automobile maintenance on the side. He has simultaneously served as a reserve Marine infantryman with Company A, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment since May 2008.
“I try to get all the Marines out here in the motor pool,” said Wentworth. “It’s important that they know how to work on these vehicles in case one goes down on a mounted patrol out in the desert. It’s just like their weapons; you take care of them, and they’ll take care of you.”
“What I love about mechanics is being able to figure things out, kind of like doctor; only without the doctor’s salary,” said Wentworth, whose operational experience includes a 2005 deployment to Afghanistan. “Mechanics is like solving a mystery. And when you take a vehicle that was dead, and you can make it run, that’s a great feeling.”
Wentworth, like many other infantrymen in the battalion, worked day and night at the motor pool at Al Asad throughout the months of September and October to increase the readiness rate of their vehicles from 10 percent to 90 percent.
Lance Cpl. Nicholas Menzen, 23, a Company E assaultman, was one of those Marines who used his civilian skills to help Wentworth prepare the battalion’s fleet for their trek to the western region of Iraq. Menzen’s family owns an auto body shop in his home town of Ottsville, Pa.
“The mechanics gave us pointers when we needed them, but I knew most of it from working with my dad back at home,” said Menzen.
Lance Cpl. Jordan Carl, 21, of Hegins, Pa. is a team leader with Company E. Carl’s father owns an automotive service business and he has worked on vehicles “for as long as I can remember,” said Carl.
In addition to helping out back at al Asad, Carl and his team spent the entire day Jan. 20 preparing their humvee for an upcoming mission in support of the Iraqi national elections at the end of the month.
“I’m pretty much teaching everyone on my team how to do basic first echelon maintenance, such as servicing transmissions, changing fluids, filters and tires,” said Carl. “It really helps to pass the time here.”
In addition to hundreds of simple repairs and more than a thousand hours of basic maintenance performed by the infantrymen, the battalion’s four mechanics have fixed more than 140 “dead-lined” vehicles requiring major overhauls such as fixing axles and suspensions and replacing fuel injectors, said 2nd Lt. Max Wright, the battalion motor transportation officer who has supervised the battalion’s maintenance efforts over the past four months.
“What would usually be a simple repair becomes difficult with the MRAP [Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle],” said Wright. “It takes a crane or forklift to remove the armor if you want to replace a starter. It adds a lot of time to simple jobs, which makes for longer work hours.”
Wright lauded the efforts of his Marines, who have labored from early morning until late in the evening, working sometimes by flashlight to keep the vehicles up and running.
“Considering the equipment we started with and the number of the Marines I have, their accomplishments are unbelievable,” added Wright, a 26-year-old native of Texarkana, Texas.
As the Marines of 2/25 finish out the last few months of their tour, the mechanics, both the military-trained and those who learned from friends, fathers and technical schools back home, continue to work tirelessly to take care of their vehicles so that their vehicles can enable them to accomplish their infantry mission here in Al Anbar province.
For more information on the ongoing mission in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, visit http://www.mnf-west.usmc.mil.