AT-TAQADDUM, Iraq --
“Fresh meat!” politely taunted a Marine as he set down his cleaning supplies to watch the new group of Marines file into the lot that would soon be theirs.
With their deployment rapidly approaching an end, the Marines of 6th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, were finishing the final maintenance on more than 30 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles their company has worked with throughout the past six months.
The Marines of Security Platoon, Engineer Support Company, 6th ESB attacked the project with an excited fervor, knowing they wouldn’t have to do it again soon.
Throughout their deployment, the three 20-member security teams have worked throughout Al Anbar Province, providing security for a variety of tasks. From filling improvised explosive device craters to working on Combat Outposts, the Marines have added much to the Iraqi landscape, becoming accustomed to the larger, more durable machines.
Lance Cpl. John P. Dustin, licensing noncommissioned officer for the company, compared the process to driving a car. “It’s really getting the feel for them,” said Dustin, from Keene, N.H. about getting accustomed to the new machines.
“When you first start, you’re shaky, but once you learn the limitations, you can drive it just like a car. You get used to it after awhile,” said Dustin, who attended Force Protection’s MRAP course in South Carolina.
The differences Dustin noticed were the limits of sight from the front and rear of the vehicle. He described how street signs would easily be hit because they would be blocked by the hood. The vehicle’s added height also affected the driver’s line of sight as it is higher off the ground than the humvee most of them were used to operating.
Despite the few limitations, Marines have learned to work past them to accomplish the mission.
“They adapted very well to the vehicle,” said Bruce D. Lesieur Sr., MRAP mechanic for 6th ESB, from Marine Corps Logistics Base, Albany, Ga. “(The vehicles are) new to the guys out here. They were used to humvees, but have adapted well to the MRAP’s compact space.”
Comfort and a smooth ride were replaced with beefed up security in the MRAPs which will be the vehicle of choice for 7th ESB’s tour.
Cpl. Joe A. Blake, a vehicle commander with 6th ESB, had to adjust to this lack of space, finding the humvee more comfortable to rest his feet on during the time he served as a gunner.
“Being a gunner in one of these is a rough ride and you get knocked around a lot,” explained Blake, from Riverside, Calif.
“In a humvee, it’s a smoother ride and the suspension is a lot better. You could take it off a cliff and probably not even know it. But with the MRAPs, run over a rock and everyone feels it.”
Approaching their change over, the Marines work with Lesieur to get the MRAPs serviced, cleaned and ready to go out again when 7th ESB takes over in March.
“We’ll go out with them a time or two, show them what they need to know and then head out,” said Lance Cpl. Brandon C. Sarina, gunner with 6th ESB who has worked with the MRAPS for the majority of his time in Iraq.
Sarina, from Sterling, Va., has a few weeks left before he and his peers turn over the clean vehicles to 7th ESB, from Camp Pendleton, Calif. Throughout their deployment, not only have they seen their equipment change, they have also noticed a change in the Iraqi people.
“The Iraqis seem happy when we drive through,” said Cpl. Thomas A. Tarter, one of the MRAP drivers with 6th ESB. “We drive through (distributing) water to them and they’re always giving us the thumbs up. It seems a whole lot safer.”
With their air-conditioned vehicles and added safety features, the Marines of 7th ESB approach Iraq with a safer vehicle in a safer environment.