AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- Working long hours under the sweltering Iraqi sun may not sound like an ideal work environment, but some Marine mechanics here are not only unfazed by the situation, they're enjoying it.
"I just like being a mechanic here, I'm getting more hands-on experience," said Lance Cpl. Adriana R. Anderson, as she took a moment to rest while replacing an air compressor on top of a V8 engine.
The 22-year-old, part of a Marine motor transportation platoon at this U.S. airbase in Iraq’s western Al Anbar province, has been working on the engine for several days and is nearing completion.
Anderson's platoon, a part of Combat Logistics Battalion-7's Maintenance Company, is responsible for repairing vehicles used by American service members to transport supplies and personnel throughout Al Anbar province.
The trucks the Marines repair range in size, and complexity, from humvees to the logistics vehicle system or LVS, the Marine Corps' version of a hydraulic tractor-trailer used for carrying large loads on supply runs. High-tech seven-ton trucks and old U.S. Army 21/2 ton troop carriers are other common vehicles that are serviced.
The deployment is the first time for some of the mechanics to work on some of the vehicles or to replace major components such as engines and transmissions. Such advanced skills are different from the basic maintenance and diagnostics they were taught in their formal training and are often learned from the seasoned Marines who have been turning wrenches for a while.
The Marines' lack of experience and diverse workload may seem like a compounded obstacle that would cause problems for the unit. However, these mechanics are not only up to the challenge, but appreciate the opportunity to learn skills they could use later in their careers.
"Every day I'm doing different kinds of repairs and gaining experience," said Cpl. Patrick L. Harper, a 21-year-old from Augusta, Ga. "When I go back to Okinawa, I can help those Marines that never had that chance to work on many trucks get the job done quicker and more efficiently."
The platoon of 13 mechanics has already repaired 114 trucks in less than two months. Taking in mind that every day any four of the wrench turners fulfill collateral security and administrative duties and are off the shop floor, only eight Marines are actually working to accomplish the same job usually reserved for an entire company.
Long days working to repair immediately-needed vehicles are ebbed with moments of tranquility as the mechanics wait for the next truck to be inducted into the maintenance cycle or a special part to be delivered from America.
"It's hours and hours of pure chaos with sudden blirps of boredom," said Master Sgt. Gilberto J. Rivera, MTM platoon commander.
"It's like the weather; it can change at any moment," said Rivera, a 37-year-old Sahuarita, Ariz., native.
After the day has ended, it is not uncommon for the mechanics, male and female alike, to be covered in grease from their steal-toe boots and fire-resistant coveralls up to strands of their hair glued together with the dark, oily substance - proof of the long hours and difficult work under the hoods of these vehicles.
The very convoys they support mirror the necessity of their job; without the mechanics maintaining the trucks, drivers wouldn't be able to deliver the goods to isolated Marines at the furthest outposts in Iraq, essentially cutting off their lifeline.
While the mechanics are busy turning wrenches, the platoon also has a handful of Marines responsible for recovering trucks damaged outside the base – often the result of an improvised explosive attack or regular wear and tear of the vehicles, which are loaded with heavy supplies and driven across Al Anbar Province daily.
The wrecker Marines stay just as busy as their mechanic counterparts as they often ride along on convoys in the event that their services are needed to tow a broken vehicle back to base.
Sometimes the recovery service is needed for damaged vehicles after an enemy attack. So far, the wrecker Marines have gone on five missions to recover vehicles damaged by insurgent attacks.
"You never know what is going to happen; you're always on the ball, always keeping alert to make sure there are no IEDs that could have been missed by the rest of the convoy," said Lance Cpl. Cory S. Henderson, a 20-year-old San Bernadino, Calif., native.
As the days pass, the Marines continue their never-ending job to repair the hard-driven vehicles. The mechanics understand that as long vehicles are used, they will eventually need repair. And they are ready to provide their services.
"It's a lot of hours but that's OK. We came here to do a mission and get the job done; we can't have all these trucks in (the shop)... we need them out on the road," said Harper.