CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, AR RAMADI, Iraq -- When Lance Cpl. Paul E. Harden was told he would be leaving for Iraq with Truck Company from the Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, he didn’t know what to think. He was young, enthusiastic and relatively new to the Marine Corps. The only images he could conjure up were those of the resulting damage left behind after the battle for Fallujah in November of 2004.
When the 21-year-old, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native and motor-transport mechanic got here in February last year, he was surprised. Instead of demolished buildings and a war-torn landscape, he saw much of the lesser-known cost of combat operations in Iraq. Over the last 10 months, he and his fellow Marines have worked to undo the damage of a year’s worth of roadside bombs, sand and stress put upon the vehicles Truck Company acquired from the unit they replaced.
“I thought we would be driving around Fallujah all the time looking for the enemy,” Harden said. “I really didn’t know what it would be like. I’ve found out that it wasn’t going to be like that and that we would be spending most of our time fixing vehicles. But when we got here, we found out the vehicles we would be working on were trashed.”
Repairing the vehicles became a top priority. Harden and his fellow Marines spent the first few months here working long hours and extended shifts playing catch-up. They refitted and repaired what was left behind while simultaneously keeping trucks maintained to conduct operations against terrorists operating in and around the city.
“We were really busy the first few months because the trucks were in really bad shape,” Harden said. “The vehicles had been used a lot so we had to replace engines, transmissions and everything; it was our top priority to make sure they were up and running.”
The Marine mechanics of Truck Company have repaired or changed more than 10,000 vehicle parts since their arrival here in February 2004, including the replacement of more than 30 vehicle transmissions and approximately 15 vehicle engines in their more than 200 vehicle inventory.
“We have a lot of vehicles here so there was a lot of work to do,” Harden said. “As soon as you fix one vehicle, it’s like another is pulled in to be fixed right behind it.”
Over the course of the last 10 months, the company has their vehicles up to par. In addition, Truck Company’s activities have spanned beyond the camp’s walls to other Marine camps throughout the city and the Al Anbar province, logging numerous hours repairing vehicles for other Marine battalions in need of their expertise and equipment. Harden spent nearly a month and a half in Al Asad, a Marine camp in western Iraq, where he helped mechanics from the 2nd Marine Division’s Regimental Combat Team 2 repair vehicles used to conduct operations against insurgents near the Iraq-Syria border and along the Euphrates River.
Harden said he understands that other Marines rely on the work he does and takes his job seriously. He tediously checks and rechecks his work to ensure nothing slips by his inspection.
“Every time I fix a truck, I keep in mind that someone else is relying on it to get them where they are trying to go,” Harden said. “There is a big difference between a loose bolt and a tight bolt and it can be the difference between someone living or dying.”
Harden said he has come a long way since his arrival here nearly a year ago. Being inexperienced and new to the Corps has forced him to rely on his fellow Marines for their guidance and expertise throughout the deployment. The arduous work schedule and constant flow of vehicles needing repairs has afforded him the practice he’s needed to make leaps in professional growth and proficiency, giving him knowledge that Harden said he is eager to pass on.
“It’s all about teamwork and camaraderie,” Harden said. “My fellow Marines have helped me through all the good times and the bad times. I’ve learned a lot and I can’t wait to pass that on to other Marines.”