By Navy Lt. Neil Myers
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 4, 2008 - Landlocked sailors of the provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan's Konar province keep the wheels of coalition forces' vehicles rolling to accomplish the mission of security, reconstruction and development in the country's easternmost province. The task of keeping the engines running falls on the shoulders of three sailors: Petty Officer 1st Class Lee Chandler, a reservist from Naval Reserve Center Minneapolis; Petty Officer 2nd Class Edward Jimenez, a reserve construction mechanic from Naval Amphibious Base San Diego, and Seaman Daniel Elliot, an active-duty aviation mechanic stationed at Mayport, Fla.
The Navy mechanics work for long hours every day in a shop that is never closed. They service vehicles for every organization within 50 miles of Camp Wright.
"We currently have over 95 percent of all the vehicles running, which is a tall order under these conditions," Chandler said.
It has taken a lot of work for these mechanics to reach that high level of readiness. When the team arrived in Asadabad in March, the motor pool was a small, two-bay facility.
"In the old shop, we had to rack and stack vehicles," Chandler said. "We worked on two vehicles in the shop and others outside in the hot sun. It was like 'Musical Trucks.'"
The mechanics recently moved to a new indoor motor pool that allows them to service nine vehicles simultaneously.
"We have more space, so safety has improved," Chandler said. The new shop is air-conditioned, so the danger from heat injury is minimized, he added.
Six contractors augment the Navy mechanics and perform shop-level support for the more complex work. Jimenez and Elliot agree the contracted mechanics are a big help and said the motor pool could hardly function without them. Three soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, also assist with the demanding workload.
The mechanics have improved their troubleshooting and diagnostic skills during their short time on the ground. Most vehicles are returned to operational status within 24 hours.
A major challenge for the mechanics is the harsh terrain and climate, which ranges from rugged mountains to sweltering desert valleys with extreme summertime heat. Operations in this kind of environment can take its toll on vehicles.
"The rough terrain keeps us busy," Elliot said. "We are always working on ball joints, brakes and [air-conditioning] units. There is a lot of work going on here."
Being Navy personnel in an Army environment, the sailors had something to prove, they said.
"When we first got here, we got no respect," Elliot said. "By working shoulder to shoulder and being willing to help any unit in need, we've earned some respect."
The sailors reported that the best part of their day is seeing a vehicle roll out the shop with a happy driver.
"I want people to have confidence in the work we do," Elliot said. "There is nothing that you can give us that we can't fix."
The soldiers and sailors of the Konar PRT and Task Force Spader are grateful for the work that the mechanics are doing and agree that the mechanics are essential to mission success. The mechanics know the importance of their work.
"My biggest fear is that someone will get hurt because I didn't do my job properly," Jimenez said.
"The mechanics of PRT Konar are just one of the many vital parts of the team," said Navy Cmdr. Daniel Dwyer, Konar PRT commander.
Without their commitment and hard work the PRT could not connect with the population, Dwyer added.
"When we make contact with the enemy, I know our vehicles are up for the fight," he said.
(Navy Lt. Neil Myers serves with the Konar Provincial Reconstruction Team.)