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Mechanic's hobby keeps vehicles in the fight

17 Oct 2004 | Cpl. Randy Bernard

The hulking vehicles of 2nd Amphibious Assault Battalion endure extreme wear and tear in the deserts of Iraq.

Sergeant Mitchell L. Hopkins, the maintenance chief for 1st platoon, Company C, 2nd AAB, works at keeping these armored brutes roaring and ready to go.

Second AAB rotated into Iraq, taking the responsibility for the vehicles from the hands of 3rd AAB.  Some of the amphibious assault vehicles have 2,000 to 2,500 miles on them.  In the states, the vehicles normally travel approximately 30 miles a month. Here, they travel approximately 300 miles in that time.

"We had a two week turnover with hand-me-down tracks," said Hopkins, 25, a native of Watkinsville, Ga. "I had to get to work on them as soon as we stepped on deck."

The amphibious assault vehicle crewmen perform regular preventative maintenance, remove rust and handle basic repairs. When something serious goes wrong, Hopkins is the man for the job.

"My job is like being the guy at the auto shop, if there is something you can't handle, you bring it to me," said Hopkins.

Hopkins enlisted in the Marine Corps with an open contract, meaning his job would be selected for him based on the needs of the service.

"I took automotive mechanics in high school. When I came into the Marine Corps, I was thrown into being a mechanic," said Hopkins. "It is lucky for the Marine Corps, I guess, because I got something that I actually enjoy doing."

Going from working on a car to a tracked vehicle was a bit of a change for Hopkins.

"At first I said 'what is an amtrack?' But I was excited when I found out I'd be working on them because I knew a little bit about mechanics," said Hopkins.

What was once a hobby for Hopkins is now a full-time job that he has been working at for more than eight years.

"I enjoy cars and motorcycles, and it is always neat to be able to have a hobby that is your job," said Hopkins.  "I've always thought that if I didn't ever have to work for anyone ever again, I'd start my own automotive business and sell parts."

During his time in Iraq, Hopkins has learned there is more to being a mechanic than turning wrenches.

"You learn how to get out of a vehicle with all of your gear on and jump from one vehicle to another while you are getting shot at," said Hopkins. "We aren't just mechanics. I could be manning the vehicle's turrets. I've also been known to drive a few times."

Even though he sees his job as a hobby, and a good experience for him, Hopkins is a vital part of combat-readiness.

"The maintenance chief will make or break a platoon while deployed," said 1stLt. Brian T. Colby, the platoon commander. "If he doesn't fix it, we don't go anywhere."

Hopkins has deployed to Iraq twice but doesn't plan on ending his mechanic career just yet.  He reenlisted this earlier this month and upon returning from Iraq he will work at the AAV crewman school at Camp Pendleton, Calif., maintaining the vehicles that crewmen train on.