CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Seven Marines were presented with a $5,000 award for their combat zone ingenuity in designing and creating a protective armor kit for military forklifts and front end loaders, commonly called TRAMs, at a ceremony here Aug. 6.
Those awarded - welders and mechanics assigned to Combat Logistics Regiment 15, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) - were selected for the recognition by the Marine Corps' Beneficial Suggestion Program after fabricating from scratch a steel cover, complete with protective glass windows, that fits over the cab of the TRAM.
TRAM is the Marine Corp's acronym for "Tractor, Rubber-tired, Articulated steering, Multi-purpose."
- Staff Sgt. Andrew N. Zabel, the project's team leader, and 27-year-old from Batavia, Ill.
- Cpl. James A. Carrillo, 23, from Chicago.
- Cpl. Kelsey S. Marshall, 23, from Anchorage, Ala.
- Lance Cpl. Jonathan C. Elkins, 20, from Moorehead, Ky.
- Cpl. Adam L. Schroeder, 22, from Platteville, Wis.
- Cpl. Rogelio De La Graza, 21, from Premont, Texas.
- Cpl. Jonathan M. Rakestraw, 22, from Pittsburgh.
Brigadier Gen. David G. Reist, commanding general of the 1st Marine Logistics Group, came from nearby Camp Fallujah to recognize the Marines and thanked them as he presented the award.
"You Marines are saving lives, and that's what it's all about," said Reist, who currently serves as the deputy commanding general for support of Multi National Forces-West.
In May of this year, as extra forces were being called on to secure Ramadi, the capital of Al Anbar province, Col. David M. Richtsmeier, the 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) commanding officer in Iraq, ordered the men to come up with an armor kit for the TRAMs, which were planned to be used to build new combat outposts throughout the city.
With Ramadi the setting of some of the fiercest fighting in the struggle to stabilize Iraq, the slow-moving TRAMs needed something that would protect the operators if they came under enemy attack while fortifying the outposts, said Richtsmeier, who recommended the Marines for the award after seeing the results of their efforts.
The goal was to create a replicable force protection system with blue prints that other units could use to add armor to TRAMs anywhere in Iraq.
Detailed schematics were created for each piece of the adapted armor, including precise measurements and clarification on which part of the original humvee armor kit the pieces came from.
Combat Logistics Battalion 7, a 1st MLG unit located northwest of here at Al Asad Air Base, used these schematics to build an armored protection system for one of their own TRAMs.
Over the course of two weeks, the seven-man team worked around the clock developing the system, using leftover armor designed for a humvee and an air conditioner built for another vehicle system to complete their makeshift product.
Fueled by energy drinks and music, the Marines were inspired by the unique mission they were tasked with and the benefits of their final product to others.
"Our motivation came from the ever-present rebuilding mission that the Marines of the I Marine Expeditionary Force have been given," said Zabel, the team leader. "I tried to make it a point every day to emphasize the fact that by building this armor shell, we were (potentially) saving the life of a heavy equipment operator."
Adapting parts intended for a completely different machine - and overcoming the tight spaces and sharp angles of the TRAM - were some of the major frustrations they met head on, said Schroeder.
Carrillo and Marshall, vehicle mechanics used to fixing engines and transmissions in humvees, helped overcome some of these frustrations when they adapted a larger alternator to power the air conditioning unit for the new cab.
The challenges of building something with no prior design to gauge off of kept the Marines working almost non-stop until they completed the project, said Rakestraw, who drafted the blueprints of the design.
As heavy equipment mechanics, Rakestraw and De La Garza added their expertise of working on TRAMs and other large military vehicles to the team.
senior personnel involved in the project encouraged the Marines to submit their final product to Marine Corps Logistics Command for their Beneficial Suggestions awards program.
"(The Marines) went beyond their 'normal job expectancy' to quickly and effectively neutralize a very dangerous situation for heavy equipment operators," said Shirley P. Stiles and Robin G. Wimberly, who work with the Beneficial Suggestion program and helped get the Marines approved for the $5,000 gift that was split between the seven.
The Beneficial Suggestion Program, run by Marine Corps Logistics Command in Albany, Ga., is designed to take advantage of the creativity of military and civilian personnel who contribute practical and innovative ideas for improving and maintaining productivity, economy, efficiency, and mission effectiveness for Marine Corps programs and operations.
"It's like winning the lottery, only in the Marine Corps way," said Elkins, who along with his fellow metal worker, Schroeder, was responsible for the precise cutting and welding to form the new cab cover.
The seven Marines played a big role in ensuring the TRAM operators were protected as they supported combat operations in Ramadi, said Richtsmeier.
Feeling protected made it easier for the TRAM operators in Ramadi who endured sporadic enemy attacks while operating in Ramadi, said Pfc. Michael E. Jordan, a heavy equipment operator who helped build some of the new combat outposts in the city.
Email Cpl. Redding at Daniel.Redding@cssemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil