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Maintenance crews keep light armor rolling

12 Apr 2004 | Lance Cpl. Macario P. Mora Jr.

They cover the western borders of Iraq, catching and destroying terrorist forces from foreign countries and the surrounding communities, and they do it faster than any others could.

Camp Pendleton's 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion's Maintenance Company works day and night keeping the eight-wheeled vehicles combat ready.  They're ensuring the battalion's drive to become the most effective and fastest force the Corps is fielding in Iraq.

"Our guys travel more in a month now than they did while they were in the war," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Richard Ortega, the battalion's maintenance officer.  The Emmett, Idaho Marine said the LAR crews patrol throughout Iraq, averaging nearly 6,000 miles in a month in an area spanning 600,000 kilometers. 

Those aren't highway miles either.  Most of it is through extremely rough terrain.

"We're deployed this time with the same equipment we had the first time around," Ortega said.  "It took us months and millions of dollars to ready these vehicles to come out here again."

The maintenance team developed a system to better help them do their job - the Round Robin.  The system contains five different stations checking everything from the oil to weapons systems. 

A company at a time would come through and be thoroughly checked before heading out on tactical missions. 

Recently though, operational commitments are making it more challenging to keep up with maintenance demands.  Crews are out longer - meaning wear and tear on vehicles has to be handled on the run.

To better help the needs of the battalion, the maintenance crew developed yet another technique.  Master Gunnery Sgt. Pedro Burton, the battalion's maintenance chief, said the company now checks for trends and teaches crews to prevent simple damage, giving them a better system to keep on top of maintenance issues out in the field.

"The crews get a bumper to bumper warranty," said Burton, of San Jose, Calif.  "Our guys check over 17 vehicles in a two-to-three day span."

The hard work and dedication of the Marines in the maintenance company isn't lost on anyone in the battalion.

"Right now is a very hellatious time for these Marines," said Staff Sgt. Frank Gratacos Jr., a Maintenance Company platoon sergeant from Charlestown, N.H.  "These guys can handle it though, they're the best I've ever worked with."

"They won't take credit for a thing," Gratacos said. "But we all know the extreme effort that goes into all of this."