News: Innovative program on Okinawa employs civilians to fill deployment deficiency
Story by Lance Cpl. Daniel Flynn
By Lance Cpl. Daniel Flynn
III Marine Expeditionary Force, Public Affairs
OKINAWA, Japan - Problem: 441 pieces of equipment, including bulldozers, road scrapers and light, medium and heavy trucks, need to be maintained or repaired, and no one is here to do it.
Marine Wing Support Group 17 knew this would happen when 98 percent of Marine Wing Support Squadron 172 deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March.
Solution: MWSG-17 officials implement the Overflow Maintenance Program employing a team of civilian contractors, from Marine Corps Logistics Command, Barstow, Calif., with the mission of maintaining the equipment left here.
This is the first implementation of this type of program by any unit in III Marine Expeditionary Force, according to Chief Warrant Officer 5 James A. Varner, the maintenance management officer with III MEF.
The "professional artisans," as Col. Ben Braden, the commanding officer of MWSG- 17, refers to the civilian contractors, arrived in Okinawa in March and will stay as late as August. The effects of the program can be felt across the MEF, Braden said.
"It is not just about fixing the truck or fixing the bulldozer, it's about keeping us prepared and ready for combat," Braden said.
Not only are the civilians here maintaining the equipment for MWSS-172, they are making a huge impact on the technical expertise of the MWSS-172 Marines who are not deployed with the unit. Most of these mechanics are new Marines directly out of school who arrived here after the unit departed for Iraq.
"Our young Marines, working side by side with these professional artisans, are learning faster than they would have probably learned in three or four years in the Marine Corps, just because of the professionalism of these civilians and their expertise," Braden said.
All of the civilian contractors here as part of the Overflow Maintenance Program came on a volunteer basis, according to John Tucker, the foreman for the civilian contractors.
"We are glad that we are able and qualified to come over here and do our best, as well as being able to be here and teach the young Marines," Tucker said. "It is an honor to be able to pass on our knowledge and experience to these Marines."
The Marines said the experience is valuable for them as they rarely receive such focused training on so many different types of gear.
"The schooling for mechanics is only three months long and you can't get much experience in that short time," said Cpl. Rob R. Reese, floor chief for MWSS-172. "The civilians bring a lifetime of experience, and (the training) is more productive when you have guys like this teaching the Marine Corps' future."
Braden said he hopes other III MEF units will notice the success Group 17 is having with the program and will follow in their footsteps to fill maintenance gaps left by deploying Marines or units.