JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - Since April 2008, a handful of Soldiers here tested brakes, turned wrenches and inspected parts to ensure nearly 1,800 humvees were ready for their next mission.
They are a group of Soldiers from the 602nd Maintenance Company, an active-component unit from Fort Hood, Texas, and their mission is to refurbish armored American humvees for transfer to Iraqi security forces.
"Our mission here is to provide the Iraqi Army the same equipment that we would provide to our own Soldiers to do their mission," said Sgt. Michael J. Matusiak, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the inspections team, 602nd Maint. Co.
As American units across Iraq turn in their up-armored humvees for newer vehicles, the trucks are given to the 2nd Battalion, 402nd Army Field Support Brigade.
In turn, these vehicles are given to the maintenance and inspection teams of the 602nd Maint. Co., which support the 2nd Bn., 402nd AFSB.
Matusiak, who is from Saint Augustine, Fla., said the goal of the two shops is to bring each humvee to "almost factory-new" status.
But many of the trucks have operated for months or even years in a field environment, and they are sometimes missing parts or have been modified by the troops who used them.
"There are a lot of modifications to these trucks," Matusiak said, "and we have to catch all those modifications."
Each problem discovered is documented to the serial number of the truck for the maintenance team to fix.
For the maintenance team, these problems can take as little as 20 minutes or as long as six hours each to fix, said Pfc. Anthony G. Jones, a mechanic with the maintenance team. Jones said the longest he ever worked on a single vehicle was three days.
Jones said the most rewarding part of his job is a finished product.
"That's the best part - seeing the truck roll out and being done," Jones said.
When a vehicle is fixed, it is returned to the inspection team for a final inspection and road test.
"It's a pretty hard test," Matusiak said. "We treat them like they're outside the wire doing a mission."
When a vehicle is deemed fully functional, it is returned to the 2nd Bn., 402nd AFSB.
The truck is then shipped to Camp Taji, Iraq, where it is eventually sold to the Iraqi government. This sale is done at a price well below cost, saving the Iraqi government approximately $154,000 per vehicle, said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Robert J. Fikety the officer in charge of the 2nd Bn., 402nd AFSB's redistribution property assistance team yard at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
Although distanced from the actual turn-over, many inspection and maintenance team Soldiers say they get a sense of pride knowing the vehicles they repair will be used by Iraqi security forces.
"This job is very important because ... it gets one more (American) team off the Iraqi streets," said Sgt. Christopher M. Creech, the shop foreman of inspection team, 602nd Maint. Co. Creech is from Dayton, Ohio.
"It gives me a sense of pride that my Soldiers are pushing these trucks for that purpose - that they're doing an outstanding job to facilitate the Iraqi Army's movement," Matusiak said.