By Army Sgt. David Turner
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 16, 2008 - On a sweltering hot July morning, the soldiers of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, are hard at work on two of the company's Bradley fighting vehicles. The engines sit on the concrete floor of the garage bay while the mechanics tighten hoses and pump gallons of oil into them. Two soldiers work on cleaning out the engine compartment. They both work from inside the compartment, which seems no bigger than the interior of some cars.
While this might seem like a major overhaul, removing and reinstalling the engines is just part of semi-annual maintenance for these armored workhorses. It's a job that can be done in as few as five hours.
"It's really user-friendly when it comes to pulling these out," explained Army Staff Sgt. Craig Morales, shop foreman of Company B's maintenance platoon. "It's pretty straightforward -- some bolts, a few cables, a couple of fuel lines, and it's ready to pull out. It's a lot simpler than working on your [privately owned vehicle]."
The Bradley engine is a huge, but compact eight-cylinder monster -- a 903 cubic-inch motor that requires nine gallons of oil to lubricate. What seems more impressive than the vehicles or the engines themselves is that this repair shop is miles from the nearest large base.
Combat Outpost Summers, home to Company B, is a small outpost inside a former Iraqi air force base. Outside its concrete barriers are several desolate kilometers of abandoned and ransacked buildings, many of them stripped of even their outer layers of brick. Inside, COP Summers is little different, except for the soldiers and their dozens of armored vehicles.
The 2-6th Infantry Regiment is an armored and mechanized battalion of 1st Armored Division, attached to the 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 76th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team. Tanks and Bradleys are their trademark vehicles, though Company B has an assortment of other vehicles, including Humvees and the newer mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles.
"Pretty much every vehicle we have, we work on," said Morales, a native of Dallas.
Morales explained that maintenance soldiers have to multi-task in an environment as remote as this. Most of the 17 soldiers in the platoon are Bradley mechanics, though some specialize in repairing tanks. When it's time to take care of their machines, though, everyone gets involved, even the infantrymen who drive them.
"The engines only have to be pulled once a year. Now we're doing semi-annual service, and just because of the amount of abuse they've gone through out here already, we decided we would go ahead and pull the [engines] out and service them," Morales said. "The environment out here is pretty rough."
The rocky terrain, frequent sandstorms and ever-present dust choke air filters, wear out track pads and wreak havoc on suspension systems, he explained. The engines get their fair share of abuse as well.
"As long as we're in Iraq, it's going to be bad for the engines," said Army Staff Sgt. Charles Duplechin, the platoon's team leader.
Now on his third deployment to Iraq, Duplechin, from Lafayette, La., makes sure the Army's standards are met when it comes to repair and maintenance. His vehicles haven't seen combat yet this time around, but there is plenty of work in just keeping them rolling.
"Maintenance doesn't stop. It doesn't matter if the surge has stopped. ... It's the same equipment, and we still have to maintain it 24 hours a day. Nothing really changes," he said.
Duplechin said he's been fortunate with the Bradleys so far; keeping all of Company B's vehicles rolling can be challenging at times. The biggest issue, he said, is getting parts. There is usually a five-day wait to get even the most critical parts.
"The biggest challenge for us is making repairs without actually replacing parts – actually fixing things instead of just changing the part," Morales said.
Soldiers rely on the forward repair system, a mobile mechanic's shop with welding equipment, grinders, air tools and other gadgets. It even features a crane attached to the back.
"This is the best thing the Army ever gave us. It's got just about everything," Morales said. "It definitely makes our job a lot easier."
Despite the difficulties of working in such harsh conditions, Morales said he likes his work and is getting used to the environment.
"I really enjoy it out here. This is a nice area. We've got hard buildings here; we've actually got concrete to work on instead of working out in the dirt and rocks," he said.
(Army Sgt. David Turner serves with the 3rd Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)