FORT PICKETT, Va. -- Before you can put hot lead downrange, you have to have the lead. Ammunition technicians, or "ammo techs," are the Marines who make sure you get it.
The Marines of Combat Logistics Battalion-26 keep the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit supplied with any and all types of ammunition they need.
Sergeant James L. Lewis, CLB-26 ammunition chief, said his Marines are responsible for every single round of ammunition that any ground-based unit in the MEU may need.
"We handle the transportation, storage, and accountability of all the MEU's ammunition assets," Lewis said, adding, "we support every unit in the MEU that shoots a bullet.'
Corporal Ronald L. Kepner, an ammo tech with CLB-26, said he knows how important his job is.
"Marines can't send rounds down range without us," he said, "They need the ammo"
Lewis and his team of six Marines are not only responsible for handling and distributing the ammo, but also maintaining its security and safety.
Even one lost round of ammunition can lead to serious consequences for the unit.
Lance Corporal Steven C. Bradley, ammo tech and records chief for the ammunition supply point, said keeping track of all the ammunition is paramount.
"Accountability is the most important thing," he said, "the safety of the base, individuals and civilians around the base would be compromised."
Keeping track of millions of rounds of ammunition is no small task.
"Since we started in January, we've issued out over 800 tons of ammunition totaling about six-million dollars and have not lost a single round of ammo," Lewis said.
While at Fort Picket for the concurrent Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercise (MEUEX) and Training in an Urban Environment Exercise (TRUEX), the ammo techs set up a Field Ammo Supply Point (FASP) instead of utilizing the bases existing ammo storage facility.
Whereas ammo is normally stored securely in hardened concrete bunkers behind tall fences, Sgt. Lewis and his Marines started with an empty field.
During a two-day period, they transformed it into a level area large enough to properly hold all the ammo, then reinforced it with triple-strand concertina wire, lights, and armed sentries.
Samuel Sanders, Quality Assurance Specialist Ammunition Surveillance, the civilian official in charge of ammunition safety at Fort Pickett, was impressed by the job the Marines did.
He said units training at Fort Pickett ordinarily are not allowed to set up FASPs, but the 26th MEU was properly equipped to do it.
"I've been at this base for four years and this is only the second FASP I've allowed," he said.
Sanders' job is to ensure that the ammo is stored safely and securely according to Army standards, and he critically inspected the Marines handiwork.
After making an inspection tour of the facility he pronounced it acceptable.
"It's a good setup," he said, "but it's not my job to give compliments; it's to find problems."
Sanders isn't the only one who was impressed by the FASP.
The Marines did such a good job setting it up that officials from the base trucked in gravel to spread inside the compound and are considering making the compound permanent for use by other units training on the base who need a FASP.
"It's the first time we've built a field ASP, and it might stay here after we leave," Kepner said.
Lewis was more than pleased with the work his Marines did.
"Normally a group of 20 would have done what we did with six, and in only two days," said Lewis.
With tons of ammunition neatly arrayed around the compound, moving crates and issuing allotments of the ammo to units for use could be a daunting task if not for a secret weapon the techs have supporting them.
"We've got the best forklift driver around," said Kepner.
Private First Class Alexander M. Schenk, a heavy equipment operator with CLB-26, is that weapon. After being tasked to join the Marines at the FASP, he has helped them at every step.
Schenk rumbles around the compound in his Military Millennium Vehicle (MMV), a 27-thousand-pound forklift with four huge tires, picking up pallets, pulling ammo loads, and generally moving anything too heavy for human muscle.
Schenk, who is licensed on six other military vehicles, seems unfazed by the destruction he could unleash with an error, but he admits, "At times it can be stressful working around a bunch of explosives."
The work can be difficult and unnoticed by many Marines until something goes wrong, and Lewis didn't hesitate to praise everyone he had working for him.
"They are very hard-working guys; I'm proud of them," he said, adding, "I never have to worry about the job getting done right."
The ammunition technician team will continue to provide ammunition to elements of the 26th MEU as the MEU proceeds through its rigorous six month training cycle designed to meld the disparate elements into a cohesive, rapid-reaction force. The 26th MEU is roughly two-thirds through the training which will prepare it for its scheduled deployment, early 2007.
For more information on the 26th MEU visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.