By Spc. Matthew Keeler
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq – The 310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command sent down a fragmentation order to the 238th Support Maintenance Company stationed at Joint Base Balad, Iraq: get the Heavy Equipment Transporters back on the road.
“The mission of the HETs is to actually transport the heavy equipment from northern Iraq to our base forward operations in bases down in northern Kuwait,” said Staff Sgt. Samuel Nunemaker, automotive shop foreman for the 238th SMC, 275th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 77th Sustainment Brigade, 310th ESC, and a San Antonio native.
With the reposturing of U.S. Forces and equipment throughout the country, these trucks are being stressed to their limits. The HET was not originally designed to carry the equipment that it hauls.
“The HET itself is an ‘Osh-Kosh’ design, [and] it was first incorporated in the 1980s for the full mentality that the main battle tank would rule the battlefield,” said Nunemaker. “Of course, with the new integration of technology the Stryker, Bradleys, and the new [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles], [the HET] is an older piece of equipment that is being used … as a heavy equipment all-purpose transport truck.”
Considering the amount of time that these trucks spend on the road, there are bound to be wear and tear issues, especially with a truck designed 20 years ago.
“An average HET crew on a single night, [could] log anywhere from 60 to 100 miles,” said Nunemaker. “So these trucks in reality are running constantly.”
For some soldiers, the mission to repair these trucks has become the main focus of their deployment — even if they are from different shops of the 238th SMC.
“I’ve worked on about 10 [HETs], [and] I’m a fairly new mechanic out here,” said Spc. Joshua Johnson, a mechanic for the 238th SMC, and a Lawton, Okla., native. “They pulled me from another shop because they needed help, so I’m here to help.”
Johnson worked in the small-arms repair shop, but because the need of the mission, he was tasked to learn about the HETs and assist their repair to get them back on road, he said. Since he is not as familiar with these trucks as many of the other mechanics, it has been the help and encouragement of the other soldiers to help get him up to speed.
“It’s going very well,” said Johnson. “Lower-enlisted and [non-commissioned officers] both know what they are talking about, and I get good help from them and civilians who work in our shop too. Any question I need answered, I get answered pretty quickly.”
To Johnson, the camaraderie of his battle-buddies are what have eased his transition into the HET shop.
“I’ve known a lot of these people for a long time - about two to three years - and working with them is always a good time,” he said. “We have some fun, but get the job done at the same time.”
For Pfc. Michael Villanueba, an all-wheeled vehicle mechanic for the 238th SMC, and a Paradise, Texas, native, the increase in the work flow is a way to increase his knowledge of diesel trucks.
“I came in [the Army] with some knowledge on the civilian side, but I had to pick up the heavier diesel stuff with the hydraulics, and how to do it pretty quickly,” said Villanueba. “All in all, I’ve become pretty well rounded, and when I go home I will be better prepared to work with hydraulics and anything that comes up.”
Villanueba originally came from the 300th Sustainment Brigade, but was picked up to join the 238th SMC on their deployment, he said.
“It’s a lot of hard work, and can be a bit stressful sometimes because there are a lot of parts that are hard to get to and difficult to take off,” he said. “But, at the very end of the day, let’s get [this] done, and get it all back together again and get it out of here.”
Some of the issues the 238th SMC experience are mostly electrical, or wear and tear, tires, or just the normal aging due to their constant use, said Villanueba.
The 238th shop has repaired more than 100 HETs already, and are looking at continuing their flow, said Nunemaker. And, with the order from the 310th ESC to get these trucks back on the road, that number will continue to increase.
“We have done outstanding, especially [considering] the conditions,” said Nunemaker. “We are dealing with days where it reaches 128 degrees in the sun. I mean, these bays are nice, but it still reaches 115 degrees in here. We do have a constant shift, three shifts working and 24-hour operations, [and] we are doing the best we can under the conditions that we are under.”
For the mechanics and soldiers, it's not only about repairing a truck, it’s about assisting their fellow soldiers and getting the overall job done.
It is absolutely vital to get these trucks back on the road because this equipment is part of the reposturing procedure to basically leave the smallest footprint in theater that U.S. forces could possibly leave, said Nunemaker.
As equipment is moved throuighout Iraq, the HETs will remain a cornerstone to the reposturing effort. And because of that, the soldiers of the 238th SMC will remain busy.
“Maintenance [units] ... don’t exactly get all the press, but the thing to remember is that we get a lot of emails from down south from other units that drivers would be doing a lot of walking if it wasn’t for us,” Nunemaker said.