HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
Driving over Afghanistan's rocky terrain can take a toll on tactical vehicles. Roads are littered with improvised Explosive Devices and a tactical vehicle unlucky enough to roll over one is most likely too damaged to continue driving. Even the soft, talcum-like sand can cause vehicles to get stuck while driving. But what happens when those vehicles can't be driven out of the desert?
Wrecker teams are in charge of going out and recovering these vehicles if an incident occurs that affects a unit's ability to complete a mission.
"As a wrecker operator, I recover downed vehicles or get them unstuck," said Sgt. Israel Chavez, wrecker operator for Combat Logistics Battalion 5, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward). "Depending on the situation and what is needed of us, we go out and support the mission, whether it's a [combat logistics patrol] or a [Quick Reaction Force] mission."
It is extremely important for the Marine Corps to have wrecker operators because it would cost a lot of money and resources to replace the vehicles hit by IED's or broken down in the middle of the Afghanistan desert. Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, for instance, the Corps' most widely used forward deployed tactical vehicle, cost upwards of $1 million each.
"It's a tough job learning to operate this wrecker but I love doing it. That's why I requested to go to school and become an operator," said Chavez, 25, from Los Angeles. "It's a lot of fun; a lot of people don't get to do and see most of the things that I am able to see."
"Not many people can say that they were able to pull out and recover a vehicle that got stuck in the desert," he added.
Chavez has been a wrecker operator since October and arrived in Afghanistan a few weeks ago. During his first month here he has made more than 20 recoveries, 13 of which were during his last QRF mission that lasted more than 72 hours.
"These past three days have been really busy," said Chavez. "Once we recover a broken down vehicle and bring it back to base safely, we'll take it to the maintenance Marines so they can fix it up."
According to Chavez, on the days they aren't going out on missions, they work on their wrecker trucks, ensuring everything is operating properly.
"During a mission, these [wrecker] vehicles go through a lot of beatings. We have to keep them maintained so they can be in good shape and keep running," said Chavez. "That way, they don't break down often, as we only have a few of these vehicles to operate."
Recovering downed vehicles gives Chavez a sense of accomplishment, knowing he's helping give something back to the Marine Corps. And he's having fun while doing it.
"Every day is a new adventure," said Chavez. "There's always something new that happens every time we go out. That's one of the best parts about being a wrecker operator."