Featured News

Mechanics keep southern California-based Marines on Iraq’s roads

13 Apr 2006 | Cpl. Graham A. Paulsgrove

Oil stains, greasy coveralls and tools strewn about a garage seems more in line with a Saturday afternoon project than daily life in a combat zone.

But for a handful of Marine mechanics serving in this forward operating base in Iraq’s remote western Al Anbar Province, oil stains and tools come with the territory of keeping military vehicles ready for Iraq’s brutal roadways.

Marines in the maintenance section of the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion work long hours to ensure the battalion’s fleet of vehicles are in full working order for service on Iraq’s roads.

“We keep the vehicles up – we do anything [the vehicles] need for everyday operations,” said Gurnee, Ill., native Staff Sgt. Jason A. Williams, recovery chief for the battalion.  “Vehicles come through all hours of the day so we can have them up and ready.”

The mechanics’ efforts are critical to the Marines’ mission here, which is to maintain security and stability in Al Anbar’s southwestern region – a slab of desert roughly the size of South Carolina – until Iraqi Security Forces spearhead the duty later this year.

In addition to humvees and seven-ton trucks, the mechanics are charged with the up-keep of the battalion’s fleet of  Light Armored Vehicles –  eight-wheel-drive vehicles designed to transport Marines and capable of speeds upwards of 70 miles per hour through treacherous terrain. The vehicles are used for everything from patrolling, to convoy security.

Without properly working vehicles, the Marines’ mobility and effectiveness would be cut down a few notches, to say the least, said Williams.

“We can’t do it without [the mechanics],” said Louisville, Ky., native Lt. Col. Matt Jones, the battalion’s commanding officer.  “In a mechanized battalion, the vehicles are crucial- and the mechanics keep everything running.”

“We are on call all the time - 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Williams, 27, who went to sleep at 4 a.m. one night and was back in the garage by 8 a.m. the next morning.

Maintaining a fleet of military vehicles is no small responsibility for the mechanics, either, say the Marines.

“Anything short of a major rebuild, like an engine or transmission, we can do right here,” said Williams, referring to the “ramp” - a partially shaded expanse of concrete where the Marines work on the LAVs. 

Regardless of how many hours they work, all the Marines have one common mission- keeping the battalion operationally prepared for transportation throughout Iraq’s roads.

“We have put in a few 20-hour days,” said Cpl. Chris A. White, in between helping another Marine remove parts on an LAV.  White, a mechanic, is on his second deployment to Iraq and specializes in fixing the gun turrets on the LAVs.  “But our job is to work on the vehicles so the rest of the battalion can go on missions.”

The long work days are no surprise to those who deployed to this region in past years, but for those new to Operation Iraqi Freedom, the long hours took some getting used to.

“I knew I was going to have to work a lot when we got to Iraq, but I didn’t know to what extent,” said Salt Lake City native, Lance Cpl. Adam A. Galvez,  a mechanic on his first deployment to Iraq.

“If we have the parts, the vehicle won’t leave the ramp until we get (it) fixed, even if it takes all night,” said Galvez, 21.

“I have an outstanding crew who are definitely earning their paycheck,” said Williams, who has a wife and two daughters whom he “absolutely misses.”

When he gets home, Williams says he plans on buying a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

“I love riding and with a Harley, my wife can ride on the back,” said Williams.

The Marines charged with keeping the vehicles up and running are all school-trained by the Marine Corps on how to be an LAV mechanic, but most of them have some prior experience turning wrenches.

“I bought a car from a junkyard and got it running before I joined the Corps,” said Galvez, 21, who plans on buying a Toyota Supra when he returns to the States later this year.  “I have tinkered with cars all my life.”

While prior experience as mechanics led most of these Marines to their current occupation in the Marine Corps, their efforts here hold slightly more importance over the vehicles they used to fix in garages Stateside, according to several of the Marines.

While the mechanics are not performing the most glamorous duties, it does have its rewards.

“When crewmen [the Marines operating the turrets] come up to me and say, ‘thanks, my gun works great,’ makes it all worthwhile,” said White, a 24-year-old from Kinglord, Texas.

The battalion, part of Regimental Combat Team 7, arrived in Iraq last month –the unit’s third deployment in as many years in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

Email Cpl. Paulsgrove at: paulsgrovega@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil.