WARDAK PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN
WARDAK PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Grease stained hands, rumbling engines, the smell of diesel fuel. To the mechanics of 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment at Combat Outpost Black Hawk, who ensure the infantrymen's vehicles are ready to roll for the next mission, these are familiar sights, sounds and smells when they enter their motor pool.
Between service repairs on the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicles and Armored Security Vehicles, the mechanics also fix the generators and other equipment around the COP.
"We'll work until the job is done," said Sgt. Porfirio Febus Jr., the head mechanic at Black Hawk. "We fix anything that has a motor."
Servicing the MRAP and the ASV presented a challenge for these Soldiers, who were given a brief class on the vehicles shortly after arriving in Afghanistan. This deployment, for many of them, has provided a lot of on the job training.
"We don't have MRAPS in the rear to work on," said Spc. James Dias, a mechanic, over the sound of a HMMWV's engine rumbling. "There's small stuff that goes wrong and we have to figure it out."
For the most part, the mechanics here focus on the standard preventive maintenance checks and services such as oil changes, checking fluid levels and checking underneath the vehicles.
"When a project comes in, we all jump on it," Dias added from underneath a MRAP. "There's a lot of teamwork to get the job done."
At times, the mechanics often receive some help from additional troops like Spc. Brian Cook, a fuel operator who helps out in the motor pool to refresh his skills with diesel engines. Cook said the opportunities provide him with additional skill sets to further his interests.
"They [MRAPs] are not what I'm used to working on," added Cook. "I'm used to working on HMMWVs and five-ton trucks."
The mechanics also deal with some of the after effects of improvised explosive device on vehicles, in addition to the wear and tear resulting from maneuvering on difficult terrain through the Nerkh Valley.
According to Febus, perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of the mechanics' responsibilities is retrieving vehicles that are non-mission capable due to damage from an explosion. When an ASV or HMMWV is struck by an IED, a Light Mobility Tactical Vehicle wrecker, which resembles a giant tow truck, will be sent out to recover it.
"If it's an MRAP that the LMTV cannot handle, we request support from Company G at Forward Operating Base Airborne," said Febus. "They have a larger wrecker that handles the MRAP and transports it up to Airborne."
Once a vehicle has returned to the COP, the mechanics will inspect it and assess whether they can make the necessary repairs in-house with the parts they have.
"Nine times out of 10 we'll do the repairs here," added Febus.
While having parts and the manning to make repairs is feasible the majority of the time, the mechanics often face another obstacle: lifting the 22 thousand-pound MRAP to work underneath it. This, according to Cook, is where his team became inventive.
"We don't have anything big enough out here to lift the MRAPs so we take the wrecker and lift it as high as possible," said Cook.
As a result, the mechanics are then able to replace tires; the tire rods, which control the steering; and the difficult-to-reach brake chambers.
"It takes a lot of hard work, dedication and knowledge," Febus said. "These are the tools that all of us have here. We haven't encountered anything that we can't handle."
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This work, Fix or repair daily - Mechanics keep Blackhawk running, by SGT Matthew Thompson, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.