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RCT-7 out of the dark thanks to homegrown handyman

15 May 2004 | Lance Cpl. Macario P. Mora Jr.

Sgt. Joel B. Vankalker rarely sleeps, on call throughout the day and night, and he keeps a radio always near. 

His discomfort gives Marines in Regimental Combat Team 7 a reason to sleep fit at night.  As a one-man electrical team he provides comfort no other in the regiment can.

Vankalker is RCT-7's information operations noncommissioned officer-in-charge, but proved he's got a talent for keeping Marines out of the dark right on the base too.

"There wasn't anyone out here who knew anything about electrical systems," Vankalker said.  "So when they asked if anyone knew how to work on them I raised my hand."

"There's never a dull day here," said Cpl. Reinmar C. Maranon, information operations clerk and from Chicago.  "Him being able to do all these additional duties is impressive."

Vankalker earned journeyman status as a high school senior while also attending Kent County Technical School.  He then earned an electrical certification and soon after a heating and cooling systems certification.

"Every deployment I've been on always has problems so I help a little bit," Vankalker said.  "But, this time around a lot of things were messed up."

Vankalker was hardly up to his eyeballs in wires and electrical tape for the first couple months of the deployment.  For nearly two months most of the equipment worked fine.  Then everything began to break down and continued to snowball.

"It began with a few little jobs here and there," said the Grand Rapids, Mich., Marine.  "Then from there the projects started getting bigger."

The 26-year-old has been a one-man electrician team, supplying building-after-building with electrical power and cooling systems.  He's supplied electricity to the regiment's Combat Operations Center.  Vankalker also provided electricity and cooling systems for the Internet café as well as 15 temporary stay-over tents and many other additional projects.

Nearly $50,000 was spent to have local contractors get the electricity running.  Still, there were wiring problems.  Vankalker fixed their mistakes, added more to the system and did it all in a few days single-handedly.

"We stayed up for a while getting those tents operating," Vankalker said.  "That was one of our most difficult projects getting them up before the guys from Fallujah came back."

It's difficult to distinguish Vankalker from any other Marine at first glance.  Some would even say he's a bit of a show off, according to Staff Sgt. Eric C. Holt, the information operations chief from of Pasco, Wa.  

"First impressions of him are very deceiving," Holt explained.  "But once you get to know him, you begin to understand he isn't doing all of this for any recognition.  He does it because he doesn't know when not to work.  He is one of the hardest working Marines I've ever known."

Vankalker's expertise with electrical systems reined in RCT-7's power problems.

His reputation continues to grow as units throughout the Al Asad request his assistance.

"Sometimes it's difficult having to do my job and all these projects," Vankalker said.  "But, for the most part it's what I like doing so it's no problem.

"It's just my job," he added  "We're all out here, so we do what we have to do."