CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait -- Intense heat, blowing sand, miles of unimproved roads... these conditions would spell disaster for the hardiest equipment if not for the efforts of the Maintenance Platoon, MEU Service Support Group 26, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable).
The MSSG maintenance Marines have been working 16 hours a day or longer here to keep the MEU's equipment in proper working condition and ready for operations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. But, if you think their work is limited to keeping vehicles rolling, think again. The Maintenance Platoon is comprised of about 40 Marines spanning more than 22 military occupational specialties.
"We fix everything from telephones to tanks," said Chief Warrant Officer Samuel D. Hammonds, Maintenance Platoon commander.
At any given hour of the day, Marines can be found repairing items such as floodlights, small arms, optics systems and armored humvees. Hammonds said the Marines are at work by 7 a.m. and continue at their jobs until about midnight. Although they are given the opportunity to take a break from the 100-plus degree heat in the middle of the day, many Marines opt to continue working straight through to ensure equipment is back "on line" as quickly as possible.
Most of the vehicle and heavy equipment maintenance is conducted in the shade of a steel "garage", while work on more sensitive equipment requiring diagnostics or special electronic tools is done in "maintenance vans." These vans are large air-conditioned shipping containers with surge-protected electrical outlets.
Each van serves a specific maintenance specialty. These include an infantry weapons van for repairing every weapon in an infantry company's inventory; a van for repairing electrical components of tanks, light armored vehicles, assault amphibian vehicles and missile systems; and a van for repairing radio and communications equipment.
The conditions in the desert here pose a challenge to keeping each type of equipment in good working order. "Sand gets into everything," said Hammonds.
The most physically challenging maintenance for the Marines may be that required to the keep the MEU's vehicles in top operating condition. They are susceptible to the combined effects of the harsh Kuwaiti desert and the weight stress from recently installed Marine Armor Kits.
"We are fighting three different elements... austere environment, heat and the added weight of the armor," said Hammonds. He stated that the sand slows airflow to the engine and gets into the transmission. Factor in the weight of the armor, and the humvees get pushed to their limits, he said.
The maintenance Marines have been able to keep vehicles up and running through hard work and the availability of replacement parts at nearby Camp Arifjan, a U.S. Army base in southern Kuwait.
The base is a retrograde point for damaged equipment and has proven a valuable source for items such as humvee motors and transmissions. MSSG has Marines pulling useable parts for shipment here. Hammonds said that the maintenance Marines have been able to complete about 60 percent of their repairs with supplemental parts from the salvage inventory at Camp Arifjan.
The repair rate for equipment coming to the maintenance platoon has been impressive. Hammonds said that in the previous 48 hours, the maintenance Marines were able to get seven of nine "hard-down" vehicles back up and running.
Although there are designated specialists such as heavy equipment mechanics, tank mechanics and motor transport mechanics within Maintenance Platoon, there are no lines drawn when it comes to making needed repairs to broken equipment.
"We all help each other out," said Cpl. Andrew T. Cain, a motor transport mechanic from East Liverpool, Ohio.
"He's not even a humvee mechanic - he's a heavy equipment mechanic," said Cain, referring to Cpl. Christopher H. Miller from Pelion, S.C.
Miller, busy installing an alternator on a nearby armored humvee undergoing engine replacement, said they can handle any maintenance thrown at them.
MSSG 26 and the 26th MEU (SOC) will continue training at the Udairi Range until the end of the month in preparation for follow-on operations as the theater reserve for U.S. Central Command.
For more information on the 26th MEU (SOC), log on to http://www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.