MARJAH DISTRICT, Helmand province, Afghanistan --
Working hours worse than a 1940s Chicago beat cop, Motor Transportation Marines run on two hours of sleep, a steady diet of caffeine, nicotine and the occasional meal from the field mess. They can be picked out of a crowd with ease, with oil and soot on their hands, and dust and grease spots on their faces. Perhaps the most defining characteristic is that even when they are at their worst, they always seem to put their best foot forward, never cutting the corners or letting up.
Few others could maintain their hours without lashing out or developing a permanent scowl, but not 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment’s ‘Motor T’ Marines. Despite working 12-14 hours on an easy day with no weekend in sight, laughter follows them.
“There is nothing they come across in their career they can’t fix,” said Sgt. William Jackson, a native of Islip Terrace, N.Y., and the 1/6 motor transportation maintenance chief. “This is the fifth unit I’ve been with, and I’ve never had guys like this. They’re some of the hardest workers I’ve ever met. If they’re not working, they’re not happy. I’m worried that if they ever get everything fixed, they’ll start slashing tires so they’ll have something to do.”
Roughly a platoon of Motor T personnel, which includes radio operators and Navy corpsmen, are responsible for several hundred vehicles and machines, including trams, generators and other equipment that their section maintains. Of those Marines, only eight are certified mechanics, with two at a time working 24-hour shifts.
Jackson explained that though they are shorthanded and never without work, one out of the eight mechanics is attached to each convoy to ensure the Marines at their destination will have the support they need.
In addition to maintaining vehicles throughout the battalion, Motor T also runs convoys and resupply missions to all the posts and patrol bases within the battalion’s area of operations, explained Staff Sgt. Vicenti Ervin, a native of Washington, Ga., and the 1/6 motor transportation chief.
“We’re on the road as much as any grunt mobile unit,” Ervin said. “We supply all the Marines for our convoys – it all comes from in house.”
The Marines of Motor T are forced to cope with their personnel shortage. They fulfill roles far outside of their job field, supplying their own gunners, training their Marines in combat life-saving, and frequently cross-training personnel. It is not uncommon to see a Motor T driver who can also double as a mechanic, or a tram operator who can fix a generator.
The challenges facing these Marines are not limited to the motor pool. At any given time during the day, Motor T has approximately 20 Marines on the road. The majority of their work is conducted on roads littered with improvised explosive devices.
Gesturing toward a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All Terrain Vehicle that received catastrophic damage when it was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device, Ervin says, “this could happen to any of our Marines …”
The challenges and dangers are numerous, but the Marines of Motor T don’t seem fazed. They take it one day at a time, knowing that the wheels must keep spinning.
Editor’s Note: First Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 1, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and 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 ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.