FORWARD OPERATING BASE RAMROD, Afghanistan — This year marks the first time the sands of southern Afghanistan have seen the tire treads of Army Strykers. The 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division's campaign in the Kandahar province depends upon the vehicles freely roaming the desert, disrupting counterinsurgency patterns and enemy supply chains.
While the Soldiers inside the Strykers score victories against enemy forces in the Afghan countryside, behind the scenes teams of mechanics work to keep the motor pool at full strength.
At Ramrod, the task of repairing not only Strykers but all the vehicles attached to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, falls to the team of mechanics and other repairmen from Combat Repair Team 1, 402nd Brigade Support Battalion.
"On a daily basis we have anywhere from seven to 10 vehicles for different reasons," said Chief Warrant Officer Heriberto Rivera, a technician at the Ramrod motor pool and battalion maintenance chief.
The two main types of repairs are scheduled repairs, such as annual and semiannual services, and unscheduled repairs, which are the damages vehicles see outside the wire, said Rivera.
Broken Stryker suspension systems, a casualty of the challenging Afghan terrain, are the most common problem seen at the motor pool. However, the team also replaces transmissions, transfers, axles, steering arms and steering bearings — in addition to repairing the weapon systems on the vehicles that come through the shop.
Often with unscheduled repairs, a damaged vehicle's immobility requires a small recovery team to take a wrecker outside the wire, said Rivera.
"My guys go out there...and sometimes they get indirect fire, and they have to react like every Soldier. They are mechanics, but first they are Soldiers," he said.
Enemy contact is only one of the challenges mechanics here face, said Sgt. Frank Smith, a mechanic and the shop foreman.
Smith says with 50 to 60 vehicles a week, in an area of operations that numbers more than 300 vehicles, the Soldiers face grueling days that outlast the sun.
"We work seven days a week, 12, 14 hours a day, just doing this," said Smith.
Despite the workload, Rivera said the team's vehicle turnaround time frequently exceeds the standard.
"I'd say between four to five hours and we've got the vehicle fixed and back into the battle," he said.
The Soldiers' work ethic and performance are high, despite small numbers, and more importantly, they've maintained a good attitude toward the work, said Rivera.
"Most of them have kept their morale up really well," he said. "Our guys are actually really great mechanics — they're real quick at their job. We've got an outstanding team."