CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq -- Few sights are as comforting for a Marine in Iraq as an M-1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank rolling down the street.
Marines of A Company, 2nd Tank Battalion are supporting the grunts of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment by maintaining a constant presence along the main highways here to deter improvised explosive device placement and provide back-up with their imposing 120 mm main guns if needed.
Keeping that pace requires the constant attention from the Marines of Maintenance Section, which has operated 24 hours a day since the battalion followed Darkhorse to Habbaniyah just over a month ago.
The mechanics work with mostly hand tools, turning wrenches while dealing with the occasional injury and constant dirt and grease.
“We try to get them up as soon as they break down,” said Lance Cpl. Darrick Stokes, 25, from Valencia, Calif. “We’re covered in oil from head to toe, sweat, blood, sometimes burns.”
They also operate the M-88 Hercules Tank Retriever as a wrecker to recover tanks damaged by improvised explosive devices, and often employ the vehicle’s heavy-duty crane to lift engines for repair and assessment.
“It’s usually just the track and suspension problems, blown apart hubs and road wheels,” said Sgt. Ricky Jordan, the night ramp chief, about the most common damage caused by the roadside bombs.
Mismatched fenders on a particular tank indicate how many times they have repaired the damage that comes their way.
“One caught IEDs twice, one on each side,” Jordan said. “All the crew members came out with no problems. We had to drag the tank back with the ‘Herc,’ but it was repairable.”
Their aim is to keep as many tanks in working order at one time as possible. When confronted with multiple downed tanks, Jordan said the criteria for deciding which one to work on is simple.
“We prioritize on what can get fixed first,” said the 25-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn. “Most of the time when we come on, the workload is pretty cleared, but through the night after some operations we get a few coming in. We just now hit a slow period where we just got the tanks up to par.”
Although similar to a helicopter or jet engine, the 1,500 horse power, air-gas turbine engines that power the 70-ton tracked vehicles are unique to the M1A1 Abrahams Main Battle tank.
“Each tank has its own little quirks,” said Pfc. Thomas Furtadl, a 20-year-old tank mechanic from Santa Barbara, Calif. “They all operate the same but they all have their own little difficulties -- no two are alike.”
The tank crewmen handle most first-echelon troubleshooting, such as changing out the rubber track pads. If something needs to be taken apart, the mechanics step-in to perform crew-level maintenance. This is anything pertaining to preventative maintenance, troubleshooting, bore cleaning, and oil changes, Jordan said.
“When we get swarmed, we get swarmed,” Furtadl said. “But normally we’re pretty quick and efficient.”
“At one point in time we had six tanks down, and one happened to be the commanding officer’s,” Jordan said. “There just happened to be some bugs in the tanks that we had, and it just got progressively worse. Three days later they were all up and running again.”
Stokes said the oil, sweat and bruises pay off whenever the grunts in the area call for tank support.
“Everybody does their part,” he said. “We make sure they’re up and running so they can go out there into battle.”