Unsung heroes keep Soldiers moving in Iraq
April 8, 2009
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq -- There's an Army standard, then there's the Highlander standard. For the mechanics of the 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, an Army National Guard unit from Spokane, Wash., keeping vehicles on roads for their perspective companies is their only purpose and they fulfill it with near perfection.
These unsung heroes boast an operational readiness rate of 97 percent.
"The Army standard is 90 percent, but we try to go beyond that," said Capt. Jay O. Simon, a native of Kenniwick, Wash., and the 1st Bn., 161st Inf. Regt., battalion maintenance officer. Since taking over the convoy security mission in November, the 1st Bn., 161st Inf. Regt. has driven more than 600,000 miles.
The mechanics and maintenance teams typically work on tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and trucks. The Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles and Armored Security Vehicles are new to them and they weren't able to get much hands-on time with them until arriving in Iraq.
"The high (operational readiness) rate is because of a good maintenance program," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mark S. Morrow, a native of Spokane, Wash., and the 1st Bn., 161st Inf. Regt., battalion maintenance technician.
Part of the current program is quality assurance. While time consuming on the front end, it saves time and prevents bigger problems from surfacing.
"It takes time, but in a week we find fifty non-mission capable faults that are repaired on the spot, and that saves many of hours in repairs and even more time away from the line," Morrow said. "Finding these faults prevents greater damage and bigger repairs. If a half-shaft bolt breaks, the brakes can become useless; If a generator bolt snaps, we lose a $3,000 generator. But most importantly it prevents the breakdown on the road."
But Morrow was quick to point out it isn't the program that keeps the Highlanders moving.
"These guys are working ten to twelve hours a day so the troops can stay safe and not break down," said Sgt. Clark Ennen, a native of Spokane, Wash. and a mechanic assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Bn., 161st Inf. Regt. He adds they receive positive feedback of their work from the platoons.
"The companies do all the work," Morrow said. "The Soldiers whose coveralls and hands are permanently stained with dirt and grease are the ones who truly deserve credit."
Overcoming the challenges didn't surprise Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Selfridge, a native of Yakima, Wash., and the Co. D, 1st Bn., 161st Inf. Regt., maintenance noncommissioned officer. "I have a lot of smart, mechanically-inclined guys. We just had to get under the trucks and learn them."