Photo Information

Sgt. Zachary K. Tokomoto, an assistant convoy commander with Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, ground guides a vehicle into the motor transportation lot at Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Afghanistan, Oct. 7, 2010. Currently at 93 percent, 3/3 Motor T has the highest vehicle readiness percentage of any infantry battalion in Southern Afghanistan, said Staff Sgt. Justin Johnson, the 3/3 Motor T maintenance chief.

Photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga

Dirty Fingernails: For mechanics in Afghanistan filthy hands means finished repairs

8 Oct 2010 | Sgt. Mark Fayloga

Grease covered palms, black dirt caked under the fingernails and oil tracing his fingerprints … his identity.

Cpl. Dustin Truscott sits beneath Sarah, a 7-ton truck, finishing up one of the many repairs the truck has needed for months in the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Motor Transportation lot at Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Oct. 8. As he fastens a spring into place, his hand slips and smacks into a spindle, splitting his fingernail. He examines the fingernail, hand slightly shaking. Without a word, he pulls off the loose portion of the fingernail and goes back to fastening the spring.

"Dirty hands and lots of busted knuckles -- that’s just something that comes with the work," the organizational automotive mechanic with Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, said.

After a few more attempts, Truscott fastens the spring and quickly moves on to further repairs. Today, for the first time since 3/3 has arrived in Afghanistan, Sarah will be ready to hit the road.

The truck, with its laundry list of necessary repairs, became a pet project for Truscott and Sgt. Joseph Parcel, a fellow mechanic with 3/3. The two Marines would make repairs on Sara whenever parts came in, and when they’d have the time between other jobs.

As it happens, there are plenty of other jobs. Six mechanics are responsible for repairs at Geronimo, with two others are pushed out to other positions. The men have spent more than 1,800 hours on repairs and opened 500 equipment repair orders, said Sgt. William Boyd, the mechanic responsible for maintaining Motor T’s work orders.

Just recently have the mechanics fallen into something resembling a regular work schedule.

"The first four months here, they were worked ragged," said Staff Sgt. Justin Johnson, the 3/3 Motor T maintenance chief. "There were a lot of long hours. These guys have worked through sandstorms, for 15 to 16 hour days."

The long hours have paid off though. The 3/3 mechanics have brought the battalion’s vehicle readiness percentage from 65 percent to 93 percent, the highest readiness percentage for any infantry battalion in Southern Afghanistan.

Increasing readiness has come with plenty of filthy hands, but the mechanics know that each tightened bolt and each new layer of grime makes a difference.

"It’s rewarding," Truscott said. "I’m here for the grunts."

"The last thing an infantry guy should need to worry about is whether his vehicle will run properly," added Johnson. "We take pride knowing they don’t have to worry."