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Corporal Ricardo J. Figueroa, an electrician and noncommissioned officer in charge of Marine Corps Integrated Maintenance Management System serving with Utilities Platoon, Regimental Combat Team 5, inspects a generator here used by Marines serving with 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, April 5, 2012. Figueroa, a native of Temecula, Calif., is responsible for maintaining generators and air conditioning units used by four Marine battalions currently operating in southern Helmand province.

Photo by Sgt. Michael Cifuentes

Marine electrician keeps power on in southern Helmand province

17 Apr 2012 | Sgt. Michael S. Cifuentes

CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan – Sometimes little luxuries like air conditioning, heat and power go unnoticed… just not in Afghanistan.

Marines living on the forward edge of the battlefield in Helmand province know what life is like without the comforts of climate control or electricity. That’s why Marines here say it’s important to take care of the resources that they have.

Corporal Ricardo J. Figueroa, an electrician and non-commissioned officer in charge of the Marine Corps Integrated Maintenance Management System serving with Utilities Platoon, Regimental Combat Team 5, said he is not one to slack off when it comes to making sure generators and AC units are in tiptop shape. He knows first hand what sleeping in a tent with no AC or electricity is like in the hot Afghan weather.

One of his most important responsibilities is maintaining all generators used at the many combat outposts and patrol bases in the RCT-5 area of operations. He said proper upkeep entails keeping track of the work put into each generator, ordering new parts, ordering replacement AC units, keeping track of shipping dates, acquiring parts from adjacent units, traveling to Marine positions for hands-on inspections – and the list goes on.

“All of the equipment out here is mission-essential,” said Figueroa, a Temecula, Calif., native. “Without the proper maintenance of the equipment, Marines won’t have the electrical power to command and control their unit.

Normally, as the MIMMS corporal in charge, Figueroa tracks work orders and maintenance inquiries from his desk in the RCT-5 headquarters at Camp Dwyer. With his knowledge and experience, he hashes out plans to send Marines on repair missions or send generator parts to different sites that need the work. He has a team of four junior Marines and a staff sergeant leading his section, who Figueroa said all play their own important roles in staying on top of maintenance at every Marine position in their area of responsibility.

Staff Sgt. Tony L. Hale, the utilities chief for RCT-5 and Figueroa’s direct superior, said their section is responsible for more than $15 million worth of equipment spread across four Marine battalions in southern Helmand and the regimental headquarters.

“We may not possess the gear, but it’s up to us to go out and make sure it’s working for those units,” said Hale, a native of Kingsport, Tenn. 

Hale said one of the most overlooked procedures his Marines handle at each generator is the repairing of wires. Sometimes weathered wires split and splice and the average Marine would take it upon themselves to repair it. If not done properly, tampering with those wires could kill Marines. Hale said his Marines are usually able to repair these wire before they become a threat.

Figueroa’s yearlong deployment with RCT-5 is his second to Afghanistan. Last deployment, he manned crew-served machineguns in the turret of armored trucks during resupply convoys across Helmand province. He providing security as a turret gunner is what was needed most from him at that time, but he never lost touch with his roots as an electrician.

On this tour of duty, Figueroa rarely escapes from his office – with all the help he has from his junior Marines. But when the opportunity arises, he steps up to get a first hand look at the generators under his care.

Sometimes it takes a weeklong convoy for Figueroa to touch down at each patrol base in RCT-5’s battlespace.

Recently, Figueroa joined RCT-5 leaders on a tour of several bases and outposts in Marjah and Nawa districts, April 4-8. At every stop, the regimental commander met with the Marines and Afghan allies serving on the base while Figueroa made his rounds to every generator and AC unit.

He took a “look and listen” approach to diagnose the equipment that had issues. Fortunately, he said Marines at each base were taking good care of the equipment.

“Every Marine around here knows that if their generators break down, they’re not going to have heat in the winter and AC in the summer,” Figueroa said. “So they all pay close attention to them and keep them working.”

Recently Figueroa’s job became a bit more demanding. Marines are beginning to consolidate their positions in southern Helmand into larger combat outposts; therefore the generators on those smaller outposts are no longer a priority for new parts. Figueroa said this means it’s up to the MIMMS team to constantly stay on top of routine maintenance.

“The best way to keep the generators running is to educate the Marines who live on those forward bases on proper maintenance techniques,” Figueroa said.

Figueroa entered the Marine Corps on an “open contract,” meaning he was willing to take any job the Corps assigned to him. He said he never had a desire to be an electrician before enlisting. He did have a desire to follow in his father’s footsteps, who retired from the Marine Corps a few years before Figueroa enlisted.

Four years later, he said the job is an eye-opener. Figueroa was promoted to his current rank at the beginning of their deployment in September 2011. Hale said since then, he’s been handling responsibilities that are above his grade by giving Marines “the power” that they need. Hale added that he quantifies success when “grunts [infantrymen] return from their countless patrols a day to a cool place to chill.” 

“All of this has been a life-changing experience for me,” Figueroa said. “Sometimes Marines don’t have the time to think about if they have electricity and power. So, if my guys and I can do a good job helping them maintain their equipment, then we’re making their lives easier. That’s what’s most important.”

Editor’s note: Regimental Combat Team is currently assigned to 1st Marine Division (Forward), which works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling the ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.