SAMARRA, Iraq, April 23, 2007- As soldiers in Iraq face many dangers - improvised explosive devices, small arms fire and mortar attacks to name a few - one of the last things they should have to worry about is whether their vehicles will break down on the mission. But, without their vehicles, they would find themselves either walking or just standing on the sideline waiting for another ride.

This is what makes vehicle mechanics an integral part of the Company D 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment mission in Samarra; however, they often find themselves relegated to the background. While infantrymen may get all of the "guns and glory," it's the mechanics working as a combat support unit who put their wheels in motion.

"For a mechanic, the job is very rewarding," said Sgt. Donald Thatcher, maintenance support team chief for Company D. "In the Army, mechanics are referred to as shadow heroes because we don't get a lot of attention - a lot of what we do goes unnoticed.

"For us, it is not about that," he continued. "It's about making sure these guys can go downrange and complete their mission. We see it as it's our last line of defense. In a sense, it is kind of selfish because it's saving our own butts. But that is where a sense of pride kicks in."

The unit works on several types of military vehicles, from tanks to Humvees, and having soldiers with maintenance experience really aids the process, Thatcher said. Nearly all 11 soldiers worked with tools or on automobiles while growing up.

"You understand mechanical advantage or fluid dynamics, stuff like that," Thatcher said. "You either learn it through schooling or doing hands-on work. It does translate in some ways. The common denominator is we all like to fix things, always trying to make things work better than before."

The maintenance support team has the responsibility of performing scheduled and unscheduled maintenance checks for all of company's vehicles, taking care of everything from tires and tracks to damage caused by improvised explosive devices. Often times Thatcher's team will be augmented by tank operators to help speed up the process.

There are no barriers for the mechanics when it comes to working with the vehicles, Thatcher said. They often work irregular hours just to complete their mission so the combat arms soldiers can complete theirs.

"If an operator brings in a vehicle that is broken and they need that vehicle back the same day, my guys will bust their humps getting that vehicle back out," Thatcher said. "When it gets back out there on time, we get that feeling - knowing they gave 110 percent because they know when those guys are going out they are making this country a better place."

"We will work until all the vehicles are out of the bay," he continued. "Some nights we are here to midnight and some nights we are out of here by five o'clock. It depends on how heavy the amount of maintenance needs to be done. But that is the level of dedication here. They want to see the vehicles done."