By Staff Sgt. Adam Rains, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 8, 2008 - For the past year, a trio of airmen here has helped bring self-governance, security and economic growth to the people of Afghanistan's Paktia and Logar provinces. The efforts of Air Force vehicle maintainers Tech. Sgt. Kendrick Ouzts and Staff Sgts. Andrew Hawley and Russell Achee enable members of the Gardez Provincial Reconstruction Team to cross the province's rough terrain safely as they work to improve life for area villagers.
"The vehicle maintenance shop keeps the PRT roadworthy," said Air Force Capt. Mark Stevens, the PRT's civil engineer.
In addition to constantly repairing or replacing parts worn out by rough terrain, the maintainers are directly involved with every mission that leaves the base.
"When you have a radiator blow or a wheel fall off, they are the ones we can count on to get us out of harm's way," Stevens said. "When it absolutely has to get running now, the vehicle maintainers are always there to keep us moving."
The team, performing tasks normally assigned to soldiers, has its work cut out. Normally, the maintenance mission takes a crew of nine. The team's responsibilities include a fleet of 26 Humvees, a light medium tactical vehicle and a joint explosive ordnance disposal vehicle, supporting a variety of missions that average four to five convoys each day.
"When I first hit the ground, I had to come to terms with the fact that the trucks were taking a beating not only from the terrain, but (also) from the simple fact that they were carrying a lot of weight," said Ouzts, the team's noncommissioned officer in charge, deployed from 97th Airlift Wing at Altus Air Force Base, Okla.
Despite his initial concerns, Ouzts and his team rose to the challenge, far surpassing the expectations of the PRT's leadership.
"He is the 'go-to guy' in all areas of upkeep and maintenance," said Air Force Master Sgt. Ed Chamberlin, the PRT's services superintendent, noting that Ouzts had spearheaded the effort to quickly up-armor more than 80 Humvees here. "Sergeant Ouzts' leadership skills ensure that the PRT mechanics keep the vehicles mission-capable."
Hawley, deployed from 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., manages the logistical elements of the job. In addition to administering the system that tracks maintenance actions, he created an innovative program to efficiently process, stock and account for nearly $500,000 in parts at four different operating locations, Chamberlin said.
Achee, deployed from 31st Fighter Wing at Camp Darby, Italy, rounds out the team. His skills at maintenance in the field have proven invaluable, said Chamberlin, who added that Achee provided critical support not only to the PRT, but also to U.S. and Afghan forces in the midst of combat operations.
Army Staff Sgt. Robert Wood, of the PRT's civil affairs team, noted that the maintenance team's efforts had been instrumental to more than $10.4 million of PRT development efforts. He said he was glad to have worked beside them.
"These guys have done some amazing things together," Wood said. "They have never complained about the amount of time they are asked to work; they just get the job done. When you are outside the wire, the enemy is not concerned about the color of your name tapes or what is your primary job. These airmen know that and have worked hard to perfect their combat skills, while remaining committed to their role as the maintainers of our vehicle fleet. I can honestly say I am proud to have served with them."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Adam Rains serves with the Gardez Provincial Reconstruction Team.)