CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq -- Seeing Sgt. Bob Stoddard adeptly work underneath a vehicle’s hood, it may seem difficult to believe when he says, “I didn’t really turn a wrench until I joined the Marine Corps.
“Before, I could change my own oil and spark plugs, but I didn’t really mess around with vehicles too much until I joined,” continued Stoddard, a 25-year-old Allegan, Mich., native who has served the Corps as a motor transport mechanic for approximately six years. “Everything I’ve learned since then, I’ve learned from experience.”
Recently, the 1998 Allegan High School graduate and his fellow 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment Motor ‘T’ Marines put this experience to use, as they helped fine-tune a few Iraqi soldiers’ vehicle maintenance skills.
On June 29, Stoddard and his mechanics began teaching several Iraqi Security Forces personnel basic auto mechanics and logistics convoy procedures. This skills course is part of the battalion’s continuing efforts to train the ISF to become a capable, self-sustained military force.
“As soon as the ISF totally take over here, they’ll be running the whole show, fixing their own vehicles,” explained Stoddard. “This course teaches them what to expect from their vehicles and convoys in the long run.”
On Day One of the course, the soldiers practiced conducting a supply convoy similar to how U.S. Marines do here. The Motor ‘T’ Marines taught them how to issue a pre-convoy briefing order, along with helping refine their day and night driving skills. Soldiers also reacted to a simulated improvised explosive device detonation while on the road, a scenario all too common for military convoys in Iraq. The foreign troops rehearsed evacuating a casualty from the kill zone, as well as reacting to an enemy ambush and indirect fire.
“We focused on the logistics convoy, teaching them how to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’,” explained Capt. Matthew Kooyer, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment’s motor transport officer.
Training Day Two saw Stoddard kicking it up to high gear, as he put his mechanical know-how to use by teaching the Iraqi soldiers the tools of his trade.
“Today, we basically explained what daily PMs (preventive maintenance procedures) are, like how you’re supposed to check all of your vehicle’s fluids,” he said. “This was just a hands-on class to tell them, ‘Hey, this is what you need to check.’”
Since most ISF personnel are infantrymen by trade, Stoddard said few possess refined vehicular maintenance knowledge.
“Say you’re a field radio operator in the Marines, and you get put in front of a HMMWV, are you going to know where the brake fluid is? The main thing today was to have them know where their fluids are, because a lot of these guys are clueless when it comes to vehicles. We want to teach them that the better they take care of their vehicles, the longer they’re going to last.”
In addition to having the soldiers perform basic maintenance checks, Stoddard and teammates taught them how to recover a disabled vehicle by using one of the Iraqi’s own tow winches.
All of the equipment used throughout the class is things the Iraqi troops will have access to once Coalition forces leave the country, Stoddard added.
On Day Three, the soldiers combined their preventive maintenance knowledge and convoying skills during a final performance test, after which they graduated the course. The troops may now take this knowledge back to their respective infantry companies to train fellow soldiers.
“They’ve also got a mechanic designated for (each of) their companies, a guy who’s mechanically inclined whom they can go to whenever a problem comes up on one of their vehicles,” Stoddard stated.
Stoddard’s unit is also helping keep the Iraqi soldiers alive on the perilous roadways of their country in other ways. Since the ISF drive unarmored pickup trucks and vehicles, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment’s Motor ‘T’ Marines recognized their need for defense against small arms fire and insurgent-emplaced roadside bombs.
“We’ve taken steel scraps from some of the stuff we weren’t using anymore, and hung them on the sides of their vehicles to give them some extra protection,” Kooyer stated. “We’ve been able to do that to several of their vehicles.”
Stoddard and his fellow Marines are putting the ISF on the road to success by equipping them with this new armor and mechanical expertise.
“This makes me feel pretty good about myself,” Stoddard said. “That’s what we’re here to do, to help them out. Once we can help the Iraqis build their own government, and we can get out of here, they’ll be just as happy as we’ll be.”