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Heavy equipment mechanics repair, return vehicles to warfighters in Afghanistan

By Cpl. Daniel Woodall , 1st Marine Logistics Group

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Nov. 17, 2010 — CENTCOM

Lance Cpl. Steven Stolz, 19, engineer equipment mechanic, Support Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 3, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), inspects a piece of equipment for cleanliness on a heavy equipment vehicle known as a Backhoe Loader on Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, Nov. 5. (Photo by Cpl. Daniel Woodall.)

CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan (Nov. 17, 2010) — Whether they’re plowing roads, transporting cargo or towing gear, heavy equipment vehicles serve a variety of purposes here in Afghanistan. 

However, given the austere conditions and frequency of use, these vehicles require a lot of maintenance. Because of this seemingly endless workload, military and civilian mechanics serving in deployed environments have a high operational tempo.

The 10 heavy equipment mechanics with Support Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 3, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), provide maintenance support to their battalion as well as several units within Regimental Combat Team 1 located throughout Afghanistan’s Helmand province. Since arriving here last month, the Marines of CLB-3’s heavy equipment section have already repaired nearly 20 heavy equipment vehicles.

According to Staff Sgt. Tony Robinson, 30, engineer maintenance chief, Support Company, CLB-3, 1st MLG (FWD), their mission is to provide maintenance support to all vehicles classified as “heavy equipment.” These vehicles include cranes, forklifts and terrain-altering vehicles.

“Basically, it’s the operator’s job to work with the gear and the mechanic’s job to repair it and send it back out,” said the Jacksonville, Fla., native. “Every day is different because the work always changes. We work the gear, not the clock – meaning we don’t have an established, day-to-day work schedule. [Heavy equipment mechanics] troubleshoot a piece of gear until the mission gets accomplished.”

In order to accommodate their demanding schedule, Support Company mechanics provide and receive assistance from other sections within their battalion. When a logistics vehicle requires maintenance, the mechanics will often offer the operator guidance to reduce mechanical problems in addition to making the required repairs. Likewise, mechanics may on occasion receive assistance in the form of replacement parts fabricated by Marine machinists.

According to Sgt. Sean M. Smith, 24, floor chief, Support Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 15 (Forward), 1st MLG (FWD), the maintenance element often works with CLB-3’s Engineer and Motor Transport companies to expedite and improve the maintenance process.

“[Vehicle] operators and the mechanic community work together to get the gear back to the fight as fast as possible,” said the Wichita, Kan., native. “We work long hours to ensure this battalion has [functioning] gear.

“The Marines of [the heavy equipment section] who are here almost straight from [their military occupational schools] have the confidence of someone who has been doing this for years,” Smith continued. “Their ability to absorb knowledge and eagerness to learn blows me away.”

Despite varying levels of experience, the heavy equipment mechanics always find a way to accomplish their mission due to their leadership and their ability to adapt to different missions. Serving on his first combat deployment, Lance Cpl. Steven Stolz, 19, engineer equipment mechanic, Support Company, CLB-3, 1st MLG (FWD), believes his job is both necessary and fulfilling.

“[Receiving], repairing and sending back the vehicles is a great feeling,” said the Ottawa, Ill. native. “We not only fix current problems on the vehicles, but also prevent future issues. We work long hours [to get the job done], and I love working here.”