CAMP BEUHRING, Kuwait -- Not far from the Iraqi border and under a scorching desert heat, motor transport mechanics from the MEU Service Support Group 11 work day and night to keep the MEU’s vehicles rolling and ready for action here.
Marines and sailors from MSSG-11, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) Camp Pendleton, Calif., are on a six-month deployment in the Persian Gulf region in support of the Global War on Terrorism. They are here conducting desert sustainment training.
According to Cpl. Robert M. Leach, motor transport mechanic, mechanics like himself not only service their own unit’s vehicles but also provide maintenance support to the MEU’s command element, aviation and ground combat elements as well. They repair different variations of humvees, a five-ton truck and seven-ton trucks, known as Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacements. They also repair Interim, Fast Attack Vehicles and heavy equipment such as the tractor tram.
Throughout the day, the 115-plus degree heat may slow down the mechanics a bit, but it will not keep them from accomplishing their mission, said Sgt. Clinton R. Inness, motor transportation chief, maintenance detachment.
“The maintenance Marines are highly dedicated, very mature and consummate professionals,” said Inness. “When any vehicle goes down, the Marines quickly troubleshoot the problem and get it fixed.”
Leach and Inness both give a lot of credit to the group’s supply section for getting them the parts they need quickly. When a 7-ton truck engine went down recently, the supply section did an awesome job in getting them an engine right away, said Leach.
“If they don’t have the part you need, they do their best to get it to you as soon as possible. When it comes to getting vehicles up, everyone becomes focused and works as a team,” said Inness.
When asked if being in the Middle East and being so close to Iraq and the possibility of going into combat has anything to do with their focus and work ethic, Inness replied no. “It really makes little difference,” these Marines would work this hard in any place and under any circumstances, said Inness.
“We had one Marine whose toenail had been cut off and was told to take the day off. He had some work pending, so he kept begging us to let him come to work,” said Inness. “I am amazed by the work ethic of these Marines. They will keep going and going until you make them stop.”
According to Leach, because of this work ethic and the aggressive preventive maintenance schedule instituted by the leadership, MEU vehicles have suffered few of the mechanical failures. Leach said the Marines are trying to prevent breakdowns caused by both increased use, and ironically by the lack of use as well. “Sometimes a piece of gear will act up when you use it after it’s been sitting around for a long time.”
Although, some breakdowns are inevitable, mechanics take it personal when vehicles and equipment linger too long bearing a “deadline” placard, the military’s version of the “out of order” sign.
“We don’t want anything to go down,” said Inness. He describes the MEU as a well-oiled machine that requires all parts to work together in order to accomplish its mission. If the maintenance Marines can’t keep the vehicles and equipment up and running, it will slow down the MEU, said Inness.
But vehicles and equipment breakdowns are not the only concern for MSSG-11 leaders. Maintenance personnel are also very susceptible the merciless desert heat.
There is nothing that will slow down the MEU-machine faster than losing Marines who get burned out by the extreme temperatures, said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey R/ James, engineer maintenance chief.
To protect Marines and sailors from burnout, MSSG-11 is performing “preventive maintenance” on personnel as well.
“We stress hydration and try to work in the shade as much as possible,” said James, referring to the camouflage netting shelters dotting the maintenance yard. Outside the cammie netting, 115 degrees quickly feels like 130, he said.
Section leaders have also instituted mandatory time off for all maintenance personnel and have organized an Olympic-style sports tournament with a variety of sports like basketball, softball, volleyball and flag football to help the Marines to unwind.
According to Inness, this was something that was much needed. “I personally have a hard time relaxing if I know there is work to be done. I think most Marines are the same way,” said Inness.
Also, to prevent heat casualties and to increase productivity, the Marines recently began doing most of their heavy maintenance during the evening hours. In just a couple of hours in the sun, an engine that is already running at 180 degrees can get too hot to work on, said Inness.
Moving most of the maintenance work to the cooler evening hours has helped to get more accomplished, said Inness. Although, not everyone likes to work through the night, most mechanics said they don’t mind, he said. “When we have a job to do, we have to get it done, no matter what time of the day it is.”
For more information on the Marines and sailors of the 11th MEU (SOC) please visit their website at http://www.usmc.mil/11thmeu.