CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
The ground assault force is a crucial element during combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. To ensure the force’s vehicles can move to and from objectives, which can entail a life or death situation, motor transportation mechanics are relied on to keep each vehicle properly functioning at all times.
From sunrise until sunset, the clicks of ratchets and whines of power drills can be heard every day as the mechanics of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, continuously work on vehicles to ensure mission success.
Finishing each day covered in motor oil, transmission fluid, dirt and sweat, five lance corporal mechanics are the only individuals responsible for all vehicle maintenance. They arrived at the battalion just a few months before the deployment and currently fill billets typically slated for noncommissioned officers.
“There is a lot of responsibility that rests on their shoulders,” said Gunnery Sgt. Michael Shuman, the motor transportation chief of 1st Bn., 7th Marines. “They have a work ethic that I can’t even describe; it’s just phenomenal. They continue to push nonstop.”
Corrective and preventative maintenance keep the Marines busy on a daily basis. Basic preventative maintenance consists of replacing oil filters, primary fuel filters, fuel water separators, air dryer filters, transmission filters and transfer case filters.
“Most of the filters are pretty easy to get to, but some of them require us to drop the 1,500-pound belly armor to access,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew Witte, a motor transportation mechanic with 1st Bn., 7th Marines, and a native of Phoenix.
The mechanics also stay busy by replacing broken windows on each vehicle. After years of patrolling, nearly all of the vehicles had spiderweb-shaped cracks on every window as a result of gunfire, shrapnel and rocks. Some of the bulletproof windows weigh up to 400 pounds and can take hours to replace.
The lance corporals are also employed on every mission the battalion conducts that includes vehicles. Mine rollers and vehicles often malfunction or break down during missions due to maneuvering over rough and uneven terrain or from improvised explosive device explosions. Whether it is 1 p.m. in the searing heat or 2 a.m. in the darkness of the night, the mechanics are immediately on the scene to fix any problem.
“Sometimes I have to sit in the sun all day when I’m trying to get a vehicle to work,” Witte said. “Sometimes things just don’t go my way and it takes a lot longer than it should to fix a problem, but it’s one of the greatest feelings when I get a vehicle fixed. I love being a mechanic because it’s a very rewarding (military occupational specialty).”
While many Marines catch up on rest after missions, the mechanics have dozens of hours of work awaiting them immediately upon their return. From annual and preventative maintenance to fixing broken parts, they have to ensure every vehicle is ready to go for the very next mission as soon as possible. There is no such thing as a rest day for the mechanics of 1st Bn., 7th Marines.
It can be easy for an individual’s motivation and work ethic to burn out after several months of backbreaking work every single day, but the mechanics expressed that they love what they do. Their hard work and long hours clearly show through the success of the ground assault force each mission.
“I couldn’t be happier with the work they have done out here,” said Schuman, a native of Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. “Not one time have they ever missed a mission due to broken vehicles. If there is a specific number of functioning vehicles we need for a mission, they not only meet the requirement, they exceed it, and have continued to this entire deployment.
“It’s been an absolute privilege to work with such a group of professionals,” Shuman added.
The mechanics of 1st Bn., 7th Marines, are nearly finished with their hard work in Helmand province. The battalion is slated to return to the United States this fall.