Upgrades enhance Maintenance Marines' capabilities

13 Aug 2006 | Lance Cpl. Geoffrey P. Ingersoll 1st Marine Logistics Group

It's 2 a.m.  The temperature still reads three digits and just minutes off the base, the humvee air-conditioner gives out.  The Marines are conducting operations in the eastern Al Anbar Province, approximately 8000 miles from backyard barbecues, bathing suits, and bad summer movies.  Their sweat-stung eyes strain to concentrate on the road ahead when an improvised explosive device suddenly detonates, leaving no injuries but rendering the humvee immobile.

A Marine tries using the radio, but like the air conditioner, it too, fails.  They are unable to contact their command for immediate maintenance support.

The maintenance Marines with Combat Logistics Company 115, Combat Logistics Battalion 5, 1st Marine Logistics Group (FWD) are perfectly capable of handling, as well as preventing, the hypothetical situation presented above as a result of many new upgrades to their work capabilities.

One newly established asset is the responsive ground ordnance/ordnance vehicle recovery team that delivers high-speed off-base maintenance.  In about a half an hour, CLC-115 can be outside the base, on the job site, offering maintenance to vehicles.

This company provides maintenance to all coalition forces, said Company Commander Capt. Sean A. Collins.  The 39-year-old native of Oceanside, Calif. gave a mission understatement.

Out of 5,257 equipment repair orders opened, Collins and his Marines closed 5,082, a success rate of 97 percent.

Since January 2006, the company has decreased its maintenance repair time from 45 days to 20.2 days, a jump in efficiency by more than 200 percent.  This jump in efficiency affects many important aspects of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but one stands out in particular: the training of Iraqi Security Forces.

A decreased repair time means that mechanics fix damaged ISF vehicles faster, which helps accelerate the training the ISF needs in order to eventually provide security for their fellow Iraqis, independent of Coalition Forces.

"It's amazing," said Collins, "my Marines do so many things here and don't understand the impact."

Collins leveled his gaze and his tone became serious, "there's no doubt that what their doing is saving lives."

One reason for success is the caliber of dedicated Marines working for the company, said Collins.  "I try to (give them) time off and these kids come right back to work," said Collins.

Aside from his Marines' work ethic, Collins cited many upgrades that significantly increased the company's resources. Upon arrival, there was nothing more than an expansive dirt lot, said Collins.  Yet the expansive dirt lot left Collins with plenty of room for improvement.

By relocating the company office, weapons and electronic-fiber-optics repair shops from a different part of the base to the maintenance ramp, Collins provided one-stop maintenance and support to any coalition vehicle in the area.

Besides becoming more versatile, CLC-115's maintenance process became more streamlined, due to several small changes to the Marines' working conditions.

Through a collaborative effort, civilian contractors and maintenance Marines managed to install 12 concrete maintenance pads, shaded work areas with large coolant fans, additional air-conditioning units, improved lighting, and air compressors for compressed-air-powered tools.

Lance Cpl. Jeremiah E. Turner, an air-conditioning mechanic with the company, said the boost in efficiency for solving maintenance problems was a result of all the added comfort and morale.

"When we first got out here, it was all just encased tents," said Lance Cpl. Richard E. Alejandro, an inventory clerk with CLC-115.

Now there are buildings and camouflaged netting, providing a lot more shade, added Alejandro, a 21-year-old Victorville, Calif. native.

There are freezers for cold water, shade to work under, and the concrete has given us a stable base so that we can roll underneath vehicles, said Turner, 22, from Yakima, Wash.

Air-conditioning mechanics like Turner took part in Collins' implementation of "Operation Cool Breeze," an operation aimed mainly toward preparing CLB-5 for the coming summer heat.  In a single month, the company performed air conditioning recharges on 684 vehicles as well as corrective maintenance on 291 vehicles.

"Sixty percent of our jobs are (air-conditioning) units," said Collins with a grin.  These upgrades have their advantages (no more sweat-stung eyes). However, with so many electrical additions to the humvee, radio interference became a problem, said Collins.  When the problem was identified, maintenance Marines immediately began fabricating a bracket that would help communication specialists clear up the interference.

"The L-shaped bracket is used so that we can reposition the antennas," explained Collins.  Using the bracket, radio antennas were relocated away from harsh electrical interference. The infantry now has "an opportunity to communicate within their convoy and with their home base; without (the bracket) there is just no communication," said Collins.

Many Marines at CLC-115 agreed that improved working conditions and added resources have made tasks easier, especially the installation of air-conditioners, reliable radios and counter-IED equipment.

The recently constructed facility for installation of counter-IED technology has been an impressive help, said Sgt. Matthew V. Burris, a metal shop chief with CLC-115.

"It blocks the wind, sun, and sand," said Burris, a 24 year old native of Bunker Hill, Ill, who explained that having a secure place to store and install counter-IED equipment has decreased fabrication time.

"It greatly benefits the Marines who go (off the base)," said Burris.

"The more (counter-IED units)," Burris continued, "the more lives they are bound to save."

Maybe Collins was wrong.  Some of his Marines do understand the impact.

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1st Marine Logistics Group