COMBAT OUTPOST SHUKVANI, Helmand province, Afghanistan --
While many others are dreaming the night away, Marine motor transport mechanics attached to the Republic of Georgia’s Army 33rd Light Infantry Battalion, work diligently to maintain the vehicles that keep the unit operational.
The motor transport Marines, assigned to Regimental Combat Team-8, must be multifaceted in the way they support the battalion. They are not only responsible for quick fixes like tire and oil changes, but also for teaching their Georgian counterparts the ins and outs of the different military vehicles.
“The Georgians didn’t go to school to repair these trucks – they don’t have this knowledge,” said Philadelphia, native Cpl. Keith Bluzard, a mechanic with the unit. “If we weren’t here to help, the trucks would pile up and the unit’s readiness would plummet. Even moving the food and water from the drop zone relies on vehicles being maintained. This place wouldn’t function if these trucks couldn’t move.”
The mechanics must be on top of their game at all times. Most days, 10 to 20 vehicles rest in what the Marines lovingly call “The Boneyard.” Their knowledge base of the integral parts of each vehicle must be as vast as the fleet of vehicles they are accountable for fixing, which includes mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, MRAP all-terrain vehicles, medium tactical replacement trucks and forklifts. Luckily, technology has lent a hand in the fight to keep the vehicles maintained properly.
“We plug a laptop into the vehicle and it will run an on-board diagnostic,” said Catonsville, Md., native Cpl. Patrick Morgan, a mechanic with RCT-8. “This isn’t a ‘get a flat head and tune your carburetor type of deal’ – these days it’s all computers. You pull behind the dash of one of those trucks and it’s like that Microsoft screen saver with all the pipes, that’s what it looks like.”
The mechanics don’t always stay in their improvised workshop and wait for the vehicles to come to them. They must be ready at a moment’s notice to don their protective equipment and leave the wire to retrieve a damaged vehicle and return it to the outpost for repairs.
“We usually hear the blast first and know it’s time for us to put our gear on,” said Southport, N.C., native Cpl. Seth Ryman, a mechanic with RCT-8. “When we go out, we don’t think about what’s going to happen – we get shot at but all we think about is getting the vehicles back.”
“A lot of people think (our job is) just taking a tow truck out there and hooking it up to a downed vehicle and bringing it back, but it’s not that easy,” said the 21-year-old Morgan. “The vehicle could have rolled or be stuck in a ravine. Every little thing is a factor. Oftentimes the hills in our area have us pulling wheelies in a (tow truck).”
The last eight months have been packed with work for these Marines. They have made more than 600 vehicle repairs over the course of the deployment, but despite the long hours and endless amount of vehicle maintenance, the tightly-knit group of eight Marines keeps a positive outlook.
“The best part about being out here is how close you become with the people you are with. We eat together, go to the gym together, and work on trucks together,” said the 25-year-old Bluzard. “There isn’t another person here who I would rather have watching my back. It’s not a picnic out here, but I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world – this is a once in a lifetime experience.”
Editor’s note: The Marine mechanics are currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team-8, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.