Beyond elbow grease: Fort Leonard Wood mechanics get dirty for mission
July 18, 2012
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- That's not camouflage face paint; it's oil and grease. Making sure the powerful construction equipment on Fort Leonard Wood is in working order can be quite the dirty profession. In fact, clean is a "dirty" word around the Tank-automotive and Armaments Command/Fleet Management Expansion Directorate's shops on post.
While the average personal vehicle only holds a few quarts of oil and minimal amounts of grease, the equipment on Fort Leonard Wood requires hundreds of gallons of oil and massive amounts of grease to maintain.
"There are dozers, loaders, scrapers, combat heavy machines and the Counter Explosive Hazard Center equipment. Engine oils, transmission fluids, antifreeze and different types of lubricants are changed out daily," said Michael Parsons, TACOM/FMX Engineer Support field maintenance officer. "The scrapers alone take 110 gallons of hydraulic oil."
These shops primarily maintain and repair the 1st Engineer Brigade's equipment.
"We sustain the equipment at a level of operational readiness to keep it out there in the field so that they can train troops and meet the mission," Parsons said.
The students' equipment is damaged and needs servicing more often than it would in normal use.
"The equipment is new to the Advanced Individual Training Soldiers, and most of them have never operated this kind of equipment before; they may never have even been exposed to it. They make mistakes and through time, it wears on the machines beyond what its normal use is," Parsons said.
Parsons and his team of 105 civilians, 90 of which are mechanics, are responsible for more than 2,500 pieces of equipment.
"Most of our work force is compromised of retired military and veterans. We have Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard," Parsons said.
For the mechanics, the grease and dirt have become a way of life.
"There is no way to stay clean. The elements make it that much worse. I'm hot and sweaty, and then the dust just cakes to me," said Jason Wood, contact truck driver. "I work in the field, fixing the equipment. It's a dust bowl out here today. It's been 110 degrees in the shade, and I'm constantly covered in grease."
Mark Waldron, contact truck driver, said he gets the dirtiest from the oil.
"Every once in awhile, we'll get an oil bath from a hydraulic hose. Then I have to change clothes. We always bring an extra change of clothes in the car," Waldron said. "I've been in this line of work for 34 years; you just get use to it."
Despite the grit and grime, the technicians working around the shops are happy to be there.
"We have a fantastic group of people here; we get along so well," Waldron said. "It's a pleasure to come to work every day."
Wood said he enjoys helping the Army stay mission-ready.
Keeping the equipment running and the troops going makes me feel like I am a part of something," Wood said.