News: Repair team keeps firearms functioning
By Staff Sgt. Monika Comeaux
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - The small shop is a partitioned section tucked away in the corner of a large maintenance bay on the southern side of the camp. Toolboxes and shelves contain calipers, screwdrivers, pliers and hammers. Metallic organizers hide odd parts, screws and springs in dozens of small drawers. Rubber matting covers the surface of the worktables. The light smell of oil spices the air.
This is the world of the small arms repairers (45-series military occupational specialty) of the 542nd Maintenance Company (Direct Support) from Fort Lewis, Wash.
"Basically we repair everything that fires a bullet," said Sgt. Tanya Melson, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the section. "We don't work on artillery, because we don't support the big brigades. We repair everything from a 9 mm pistol to a .50 caliber machine gun and MK 19s (40 mm grenade launcher)." Since they arrived at Camp Taji last November, the two-Soldier shop has completed more than 250 work orders.
The .50 caliber machine gun has the most failures, said Spc. Matthew Williamson, the other small arms repairer at the shop. "The M-16 rifle is the easiest to fix. The hardest is the MK 19," he added.
Lately the shop has been getting some M-14 rifles, which they don't usually work on at their home station. The M-14 was replaced in most units in the 1960s, but some Reserve and National Guard elements still have them. The rifles, generally used for ceremonies and funerals in the United States, have been issued as individual weapons in some units, and take the longest time to get parts for, said Williamson.
Both Williamson and Melson are very enthusiastic about their jobs and very knowledgeable when it comes to weapons.
When asked how he feels about his job, Williamson said, "I enjoy it, I love it. I like supporting people. If somebody comes in here with a broken weapon, whoever it may be, I will fix it. I like doing it, I like customers. I care about the job."
Melson is equally upbeat about working with weapons and helping people. She chose this MOS because she likes working with her hands.
"Customers appreciate the armaments section's quick turnaround and on- site service," said Capt. Matthew Price, the company commander.
The shop even goes to the customers when it comes time for the annual gauging of the weapons, said Melson. If it is regular maintenance business, the unit armorers usually bring in the weapons accompanied by the electronic preventive maintenance DA Form 5988-E. The shop does have a lot of parts on hand in their bench stock, and they can repair a lot of the failures on the spot.
If the part is not available, they order it and notify the customer to bring in the weapon again, as soon as the part arrives. Because they have a great working relationship with the other two small arms shops on Camp Taji, they often help each other out with spare parts, Melson said.
Occasionally, parts need to be replaced because Soldiers lose them as they disassemble their weapons, mostly losing springs. They also make the mistake of trying to fix things that they shouldn't touch at their level, Melson explained.
What some weapons, that come through the shop, lack is a little TLC (tender loving care) in the form of some CLP (Cleaner, Lubricant and Preservative).
"They need to clean their weapons. I have always been a stickler for that. If you take care of your weapon, it is going to take care of you. Take five to ten minutes before you go to bed and wipe it down," Williamson suggested.
As for the .50 calibers, Soldiers should only use a thin coat of lubricant because it collects dust, but should lubricate the weapon well when they are getting ready to use it, Melson said. Melson also cautions Soldiers and unit armorers to look for a bad bolt with a manufacturer's number of 28210, which needs to be replaced.
As the company commander noted, the Soldiers with the 45-series MOSs are essential to success in Iraq.
"All of our customer units depend on two systems when they hit the road; vehicle systems and weapons systems. You don't hear about the unsung, behind the scenes heroes like Sgt. Melson and Spc. Williamson," Price said, very proudly of his Soldiers and their support for units at Camp Taji.