Pfc. Keith Petschen, from St. Cloud, Minn., a mechanic with Company B, 203rd Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, checks a vehicle for leaks during an inspection at Forward Operating Base Hammer, Iraq, March 18.
By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs Officer
FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Mechanics in at least one company have worked around the clock, overcoming Iraq’s harsh environment and other obstacles to keep hundreds of vehicles battle-ready.
Soldiers in Company B, 203rd Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team have stepped up to their mission, challenges notwithstanding.
“We are allowed 38 mechanics under MTOE (Modified Table of Organization and Equipment), but we’ve only had eight to 10 mechanics this deployment,” said Chief Warrant Officer Ted Richards, from Columbus, Ga., the 203rd BSB’s maintenance technician. “We’ve had to make due with what we’ve had. We have to QA/QC (quality assurance, quality control), check every vehicle before and after every combat logistics patrol. We conduct multiple patrols a day, so it’s easy to see how hard we’ve been working.”
To accommodate the workload, the mechanics have split the day into 12-hour shifts.
“Missions put a lot of wear and tear on vehicles out here,” said Staff Sgt. Ernie Reese, from Pensacola, Fla., the shop foreman on first shift. “We have to work hard to make sure everything is running like it’s supposed to. There are a lot of factors out here, like the heat and dust, which make daily maintenance a necessity. The heat can affect the seals and cause leaks. The mud out here dries on things and becomes as hard as concrete. We recently set up a wash rack, which helps us better identify any vehicle faults, so we can repair those faults right away.”
Despite all the factors that could cause problems, Richards said his group has met every challenge.
“We’ve had a few blown tires, but we’ve done over 600 patrols with minimal problems,” he said. “We’ve had three or four major problems at most. If it wasn’t for our QA/QCs, we would have a lot more broken vehicles. We maintain 350 pieces of moving stock. To be able to maintain what we are responsible for with the amount of mechanics we have really says a lot about our Soldiers.”
Richards gives much of the credit for his shop’s success to noncommissioned officers under him.
“The key to maintaining a high tempo is having good NCOs to keep Soldiers motivated,” he said. “Our NCOs have kept morale up and kept our Soldiers focused.”
Staff Sgt. John Daniels, from Amherst, N.Y., the motor sergeant of Company B, thinks that much of his Soldiers’ motivation comes from their pride in what they do.
“We’ve gotten used to our workload,” he said. “Every Soldier we have has done something amazing out here. We have a private first class running a wash rack. We have had Soldiers in the rank of specialist step up and run the shop when our NCOs were out on patrol. We have specialists running QA/QC lines. Whenever there has been a need, our young Soldiers have stepped up and filled the gap.”
Reese agrees with Daniels.
“Our Soldiers have good attitudes,” he said. “They have been willing to learn. I would say that all of our guys volunteer for the job they don’t understand. I’m really impressed with how they want to learn. I’ve never had to force any of them to learn anything.”
Reese has been a good influence on the mechanics in his shop because he constantly communicates with them and emphasizes safety, Daniels said.
“Sgt. Reese makes sure the standards are enforced,” he said. “A lot of people talk about enforcing standards, but he takes it seriously. He is constantly giving his Soldiers safety briefs because he cares about his guys.”
Reese said it was just part of his job.
“I just want to make sure my Soldiers don’t make a stupid mistake,” he said. “I would hate to see one of them do something that they will regret later. We had a couple of minor injuries, a few bumped heads and a small acid burn, but they have been pretty vigilant.”
Richards is pleased with the performance of his mechanics thus far into the deployment.
“Our guys have never slowed down,” he said. “I try to instill in my NCOs that we need to always be moving forward. We haven’t gotten complacent. That attitude is the main reason we haven’t fallen behind. We haven’t dropped any missions. That has been key for us. We will quit pushing forward when we are home.”
Daniels said that his section’s job is too important for them to slow down or do a substandard job.
“Somebody could get killed if we don’t do our job correctly,” he said. “Soldiers’ lives are at risk if their vehicle is broken down on the side of the road. We understand that and make sure that situation will never happen with one of our vehicles.”
Looking back over the last year, Richards still is amazed by the performance of his mechanics.
“Back during NTC (National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, Calif.), I would have said there was no way we could accomplish our mission with the amount of mechanics we have,” he said. “I think that shows you what can be accomplished with good NCOs and a ‘Git-R-Done’ attitude. I can’t say enough about how hard these guys have worked out here. I am very pleased with our performance.”
The 203rd BSB is assigned to 3rd BCT, from Fort Benning, Ga., 3rd Infantry Division, and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom V since March 2007.