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HADITHAH, Al Anbar, Iraq- This simple board lets Marines with 3/25 know that this where they can get their vehicles upgraded and customized to military perfection. (Official USMC Photo by Corporal Ken Melton)

Photo by Cpl. Ken Melton

Vermilion, Ohio, native, armors vehicles, saves lives

14 May 2005 | Cpl. Ken Melton

Once again warriors find themselves armoring up for battle. And it is the responsibility of one Marine with the 2nd Marine Division to ensure his buddies are armored up before they ride out.  Up-armored that is.

Corporal Jeffery A. Thayer, a vehicle operator with 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, has taken it upon himself to lead the way in adding armor, known as Up-armoring, to humvees to reinforce them. This Up-armoring process gives the Marines added protection from enemy fire and blasts from improvised explosive devices.

“I’ve had a passion for working on vehicles since I was 10,” said 25-year-old Thayer. “Now to be doing it here for the protection of my fellow Marines is a great joy.”

Thayer was raised in Vermilion, Ohio, a small tourist town on Lake Erie, where he graduated Vermilion High School in 1998.

After high school he attended Ehove Career Center where he studied automotive repair. It was during this time that he made the decision to take his automotive experience to the next level by becoming a motor transportation operator in the Marine Corps.

“My friend was always telling me about how great Marines are,” said Thayer.  “So, I joined the reserves after graduation to gain some extra experience and now I wear the title of Marine.”

After completing basic training, Thayer joined a sheet metal union in 2000 and religiously completed his reserve training one weekend a month and two weeks a year. Even with his increased work load he continued working on cars as a hobby.

In the fall of 2005 he received word that he was deploying with his unit the following spring. Finally he would be able to fulfill a goal he’s had since 2001.  It had been his dream to join the fight in the Global War on Terrorism.

“I’m surprised it took this long,” Thayer said. “I’ve been waiting to do my part since the Sept. 11 tragedy occurred.”

Thayer made the most of his opportunity to deploy. Once in Iraq he brought to the attention of his command the fact that a number of vehicles were under equipped to handle a small blast of enemy fire or an IED detonation. He soon found himself conducting level two armoring of vehicles.

“I was doing some routine maintenance and I noticed that there wasn’t much protection on some of the vehicles,” Thayer said.  “I went to my chain of command and followed all safety procedures before customizing my first vehicle. Apparently it went over well because now I’ll be adding armor to almost every vehicle.

“On some of the vehicles, Marines’ heads and shoulders are in dangerous view if they ever hit a mine or get into a fire fight. All I do is add the steel around the back that protects them better from these types of dangers.”

But Thayer’s skills are not just limited to adding armor. He also adds ballistic windows, thicker armor for doors and floors, armor plated bed liners for trucks and weapon turrets.

“Most vehicles have a weapon mount in the middle of truck bed which takes up space for Marines and other cargo. I added a swivel mount on top in the cargo carrier for a squad automatic weapon or M240G (a medium machinegun),” Thayer said. “The Marines saw that and they got excited over who gets to ride in it first.”

When he first started doing custom jobs at what he likes to call Al Anbar Customs, he had very few supplies. But after the success of the first vehicle, he began receiving more and more supplies and has had very little time to relax.

“It gets tiring at times when you’re up until four in the morning finishing off a vehicle for the next convoy,” Thayer said with a sigh. “But when Marines come and tell me how safe they feel riding in the vehicles because of me it’s worthwhile.

“The Marines morale seems to be boosted after they have visited West Anbar Customs,” Thayer said jokingly.

Thayer will leave behind all the templates and blueprints from his work in hopes that in future military operations they will be used to protect the troops.

Though he is proud to be here supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, there are a few unfinished projects back home that are on his mind.

“I love doing this job. But I got to admit I really was hoping to finish fixing a Mustang for street racing before I left. Plus I have a ’65 Cadillac that’s going to look terrific,” Thayer said, “Even if it’s not combat ready.”