FORT DRUM, N.Y.- Technicians at the New York Army National Guard’s Fort Drum maintenance facility are honing their vehicle repair and painting skills, and helping the Guard tell its story, by refurbishing old military vehicles on their way to armories to serve as display vehicles.
The paint shop crew at the New York Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site has been cleaning and repainting vehicles bound for display in Connecticut and several New York armories as time permits, said Lt. Col. Dana Brewer, the MATES superintendent.
“We’ve got two new painters. This gets them some hands on training and at the same time there’s a little welding and fabricating going on,” he said.
This lets him train his painters, along with a newly hired metal fabricator so they can refine their skills before they work on operational gear, he said.
The New York MATES facility, just outside Fort Drum’s “old post” on the tank trail that runs by Wheeler Sack Army Airfield serves as a storage site for equipment Army Guard units use while training at Fort Drum. MATES’ personnel maintain those vehicles and other equipment to keep them in good shape for training or deployment.
The historic vehicles have been stored up at MATES, or were being displayed at the 10th Mountain Division’s military museum, said Courtney Burns, Director of the New York State Military Museum.
The military museum is run by the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs and keeps track of all historic items across the New York National Guard, as well as maintaining the museum in Saratoga Springs.
There is a pool of military vehicles at Fort Drum which are no longer needed because the equipment is now considered obsolete, Burns explained. As the man in charge of telling the story of the New York National Guard’s history he tapped into this pool to provide display vehicles outside armories.
Other pieces of equipment were once displayed at Fort Drum’s military history museum but had more to do with the history of the Army National Guard units that trained at the post and not the 10th Mountain Division, a light infantry unit, Burns said.
The Center for Military History, the Carlisle, Pennsylvania-based command which oversees Army museums wants post museums to focus on the history of their current units, so these vehicles are no longer appropriate exhibits, Burns explained.
An M901 Improved TOW V Vehicle once employed as an anti-tank weapon by the Army and the Army National Guard was repainted and sent to the National Guard Armory in Ithaca because the Soldiers who once drilled at this armory used this vehicle, Burns said. The goal is to connect today’s Soldiers to their past in a concrete way.
The Army’s TACOM Life Cycle Management Command (TACOM once stood for Tank and Automotive Command) “owns” all the Army’s military vehicles, Burns said. Requesting a vehicle as a historic display piece involves getting permission from TACOM to move the vehicle.
And since the New York Military Museum is part of the U.S. Army Museum network, the museum must ask the Army’s Center for Military to approve the request and pass it along to TACOM, Burns added.
Once permission has been granted MATES has been taking the old vehicles and fixing them up for display as time permits, Burns said.
The MATES technicians treat the old equipment like any other job, said Chief Warrant Officer Robin Steele, the allied trades supervisor at MATES.
The vehicles are moved to a special preparation bay - by towing them - and cleaned and the grease is removed, Steele said. Then they go into a special booth where a water hose at 40,000 pounds per square inch of pressure is used to strip away all the paint until just the bare metal is left.
Once that is done the vehicles are moved into the painting booth and repainted.
It’s too difficult to match the historic paint schemes of the vehicles so they are being repainted with modern water-based CARC (Chemical Agent Resistant Coating) military paint, Steele said.
Historically a Sherman tank MATES will repaint for the Military Museum would have had a glossy paint, Steele said. The modern military paints are all flat finish.
The time it takes for each piece of equipment varies, Steele said. An M-48A5 Patton tank that is being repainted for the Connecticut Army National Guard will take about 100 hours of prep work and 40 hours to paint, Steele said.
The M901 that now sites outside the Ithaca Armory was repainted by MATES as were an M-1 Abrams tank and AH-1S Cobra attack helicopter which mark the entrance to Division of Military and Naval Affairs headquarters in Latham.
The Cobra refurbishing job included a special touch, hundreds of then plastic strips that stick up from the rotor blades to keep birds from nesting on them.
Next in line for work at MATES are an M-102 light howitzer like the ones once used by the no longer existing 1st Battalion 156th Field Artillery, which is planned for the Kingston Armory where the unit once had a battery, and a Combat Engineer Vehicle (CEV) that will grace the headquarters of the 204th Engineers in Binghamton.
The CEV, called officially the M728, is an M-60 series tank with a massive cannon 165 millimeter cannon firing a high explosive shell used to remove obstacles, a plow blade on the front, and a winch and hoist. The vehicle was used by combat engineers assigned to Army mechanized and armored divisions from the 1960s to the end of the 20th Century.
The Connecticut National Guard will also receive an M-113 armored personnel carrier for historic purposes.
The M-113 heading for Connecticut has a personal connection for Brewer. Once the vehicle was cleaned up he found that it had his name and rank as 2nd Lt. Brewer stenciled on the side of the vehicle. That had been his track when he was a mechanized infantry platoon leader, Brewer said.
An M4 Sherman tank which the New York State Military Museum acquired in 2003 was recently sent to MATES so it could be repainted for display out front of the museum.
Prior to this MATES revamped an M-48 tank which has been on display at the front gate of the Camp Smith Training Site just north of Peekskill.
Nicknamed “Lucille” the tank was named in honor of five M-4 Sherman tanks Chief Warrant Officer Frank Costanza commanded by a New York Army National Guard officer in World War II. He nicknamed his five tanks Lucille, after his wife, and all five were shot out from under him while he was earning three Bronze Stars for Valor and four Purple Hearts, Brewer said.
Revamping Lucille was a really tough project, Brewer said. The salt from the road had corroded a lot of the metal.
While there are no more historic vehicles in the MATES pipeline now for repainting, Burns said he expects to get more requests from units for display pieces.
“They really tell the story about those units and those Soldiers in a very dramatic way, “Burns said. “Everybody wants something in front of their armory. It has such appeal.”