News: Mechanics keep the wheels rolling
Story by Tech. Sgt. Richard Williams
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan- An operational vehicle is essential to a successful mission in Afghanistan. One of the largest Air Force vehicle fleets on Bagram Airfield belongs to the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron. Their fleet is an integral part of base defense and personnel movement.
Keeping these in the fight is a full time job, and that job falls to the 455th ESFS logistics section.
“Our mission is to supply security forces patrols with the vehicles they need,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew Cooke, 455th ESFS vehicle non-commissioned officer-in-charge.
When the 455th ESFS took ownership of base defense May 2009, they received some U.S. Army vehicles to supplement their mission and in accordance with Army regulations, all vehicles owned by the U.S. Army must be maintained by certified Army mechanics.
This posed a problem for Cooke’s predecessor who only had access to a small pool of U.S. Air Force mechanics, stationed here.
When Army Sgt. Buddy Evans, non-commissioned officer-in-charge of the joint force motor pool, arrived here with Task Force Odin, there were no vehicles to work on.
“All of my guys were fresh out of advanced individual training and had no hands on experience in the field,” said Evans, deployed from Fort Hood, Texas, and a native of Fort Worth, Texas. “I wanted to make sure they had some hands-on experience so when they went to their next duty station they would have some practical experience to do their jobs.”
Evans went out looking for vehicles to work on. He needed a home where he and his team could contribute to the fight.
“I came across a 455th ESFS vehicle control officer standing in front of 14 Humvee’s scratching his head,” Evans said. “I looked at him and asked, ‘What are you doing,’ he turned and said, ‘I am trying to figure out how I am going to get these vehicles fixed.’ I told him I have the mechanics if he had the trucks and we sparked up a relationship between the Air Force and the Army.”
When the relationship began, Evans and his team of mechanics were a mobile maintenance unit. “We took our tool boxes and worked in the gravel fixing vehicles where they sat,” Evans said.
In November 2009, the mobile maintenance team acquired a home. What was a pile of rocks became known as, “The Pit,” according to Evans. “We have gained assets from the Air Force and the Army to build an area to perform our maintenance and stage our rolling fleet.”
“The Army supplies us with 40 percent of our vehicles,” said Cooke deployed from Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., and a Darlington S.C., native. “We have built a really strong relationship here and it is great working with the Army.”
During the May 19 attack on Bagram Airfield, Cooke utilized all of his vehicle assets and needed more. He coordinated with Sergeant Evans who coordinated with Army Material Command to set up a vehicle account for the 455th ESFS in less than 24 hours, which was extremely important to maximizing 455th ESFS efficiency.
“When we got here my Soldiers were concerned,” Evans said. “They were constantly saying, ‘We are just mechanics, we just go out and fix vehicles, we don’t go out and fight,’ and that was frustrating to me.”
A few of the vehicles Evans and his team performed regular maintenance on played an important role repelling the May 19th attack. “It just proved to my guy’s that no matter what our role is here, we are all in the fight.”
“This is the first joint motor pool of its kind in theater,” said Evans. “It is nice to help build a relationship that has not been there in the past between two services that are very similar but very different.”
For Cooke, working with the Army has been an eye-opening experience. “These guys make it happen,” he said. “We have a 96 to 98 percent vehicle readiness rate and any time something needs to get fixed, Sergeant Evans and his team are on it. They keep the 455th ESFS in vehicles and it is nice working with these guys and building the relationship back between the Air Force and the Army.”
Evans agreed. “The mission gets accomplished and lives get saved a lot quicker when we (Army and Air Force) work together,” he said.