By Spc. Micah E. ClareNovember 27, 2007
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHARANA, Afghanistan (Army News Service, Nov. 27, 2007) - A young Soldier rubbed sleep from his eyes as he stumbled into the giant machinery garage at 10 p.m., his vision flooded with harsh yellow light. He'd been working on various trucks and machines since 4 a.m., but he still had to work on one more.
Late nights are nothing new to deployed mechanics like Pfc. Carson Beaver, from the Headquarters Support Company, 864th Engineer Battalion out of Fort Lewis, Wash., whose main mission is providing "last stop" maintenance support for the continuing fight against the insurgency in Paktika Province, Afghanistan.
That night, Pfc. Beaver and his team had to fix yet another damaged Humvee returning from a late night patrol. After running some tests, they determined that the vehicle's dirt-encrusted front differential needed to be replaced.
"This vehicle is a four-wheel drive, and right now, it's not driving with all four wheels," Pfc. Beaver explained, adding that the repair would take at least four to five hours, but the vehicle would be ready to roll the next morning.
"We find ourselves fixing everything from gators (small utility vehicles) to five-tons (heavy transport vehicles)," Pfc. Beaver said, lying on his back while unscrewing bolts, with several tons of metal inches above his head. "This is a very important job though, keeping units coming through here on their feet. When they come to us needing something fixed, they know we're reliable and they'll be able to continue on their mission."
"Missions would cease without proper vehicle maintenance because everyone relies so heavily on them out here," explained Lt. Alex Faber, an HSC motor officer. "We're a last-stop repair shop for units traveling into southern Paktika. Whether we're just providing them with some parts or staying up all night to repair a broken vehicle, we'll support anyone who comes through here."
Because of the incredibly rough terrain and lack of paved roads these vehicles drive on on a daily basis, they take an unimaginable beating. Sometimes the team faces problems they don't have any idea how to fix at first, which requires a brainstorm for newer Soldiers, even after their extensive schooling, Lt. Faber said.
"I tell every one of my new guys, unless you've fixed something out here, it's like you're doing it for the first time," he said. "Sometimes it comes right down to pulling out the manual and taking it step by step, by the numbers. Our worst job was restoring a vehicle that had been submerged in water for an extended period of time. It took us over 30 straight hours to completely replace the front end with one from another broken vehicle."
When the team finally completes a repair, the only way to find out whether it works or not is to start it back up and take it for a test drive.
"You spend all this time fixing something, and you hope it works," said Pfc. Beaver as they finished replacing the Humvee's differential around 2 a.m. "If not, you get right back to work. That's the real job."
"We work 12 hours days mostly," said Sgt. Emmanuel Lamsangam. "But we've learned sometimes that when we're completely exhausted and not getting anywhere, we have to pack it up and start fresh in the morning. If it's a mission priority though, we get it done. It just takes a lot of coffee."
During those 12 hours, bloodied knuckles, grease stains, oil spills and many other unpleasant things are commonplace, said Spc. Rodolfo Sombra, another HSC mechanic.
"These coveralls don't always help," he said while grinning and wiping fluid spillage off his face. "It makes a shower and a good night's sleep pretty nice after a long day like this one."
Even though the mechanic teams spend a lot of time working, they still make sure to get some off time every once in a while, said Pfc. Beaver.
"You still have to have fun sometimes to keep you going," he explained. "We play a lot of video games, mostly racing games. It's funny when we custom create our racing cars with ease, replacing parts in seconds that would have taken us hours in the shop to do. I wish it was always that easy."
On the few easy days they have, without the usual five to six vehicles to fix, they really clean up their work area. The large garage can become quite a wreck in the hustle to crank vehicles back to life and send them on their way, said Pfc. Beaver.
"Clean up will be tomorrow for sure," said Lt. Faber, looking around at the garage, strewn with tools and oil spills. His team had finally been able to get the Humvee on its way. His Soldiers were definitely going to be given a few extra hours of sleep that morning.
"It's a lot of work, but it's rewarding to push yourself," said Pfc. Beaver as he slipped out of his messy coveralls. "I love this job, it's the best thing I could be doing in the Army."
To mechanics like him, being a Soldier doesn't always mean being out on patrols, missions or firefights.
"Having the state of mind to do whatever it takes to do your job and keep the mission going, that's what being a Soldier is all about," said Pfc. Beaver.
(Spc. Micah E. Clare works for the 4th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)