5TH FLEET AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY --
The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is an organism, a fluid and flexible assembly of Marines, Sailors, equipment, and information designed and trained to a purpose, to be a middleweight, sea-based quick reaction force, and a strategic reserve for the combatant commanders.
Sometimes, an organism can become sick, or become broken. But some organisms, more than others, are capable of fixing themselves.
When an amphibious assault vehicle belonging to Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 3/2 breaks at a forward operating base in the desert interior of some country, hundreds of miles from the support of the ship and the rest of the MEU, one might assume that this would present a problem. In these circumstances, one would assume wrongly. This is where the fluid and flexible part of this metaphor knocks politely and presents its calling card.
The power pack of an AAV is approximately 6,500 lbs., according to Gunnery Sgt. Jonathan Griffith, Combat Logistics Battalion (CLB) 26 ordnance and maintenance chief, from Idaho Falls, Idaho. This might present an obstacle for the BLT, whose mechanics are bereft of the sort of heavy lift assets necessary for something like lifting more than three tons of engine and transmission out of the armor-plated, amphibious assault transports that the AAVs are. This is where the CLB comes in. In possession of the MEU’s R7, an AAV built with a crane boom instead of the gun turret carried by the troop transport model, and the M-88A2 Hercules, a heavy recovery vehicle built on an M1 Abrams tank chassis capable of lifting an entire AAV straight off the ground, the engine of the AAV suddenly presents a good deal less of a problem.
“I’ve got a pretty good working relationship with all the BLT maintenance chiefs and sergeants; AAVs, tanks, light armored vehicles (LAVs), infantry weapons and optics,” said Griffith. This kind of working relationship is possible when the vehicles themselves and the assets to keep them running are in different elements or chains of command; the case of the AAVs being BLT assets, and the R7, the repair model AAV, being a CLB asset, is a prime example.
This is what makes a repair job, like replacing the entire engine of an AAV, something not only doable, but relatively simple, despite challenges like the desert dust, distance from the logistical chain, and separation from some of the resources on ship, such as tool rooms and proper repair facilities. “We’re completely replacing the engine and transmission,” said Cpl. Justin Smith, AAV mechanic Massillon, Ohio. “Stuff breaks. Out here, we really have no other options,” said Sgt. Joshua Whitehead, maintenance chief of AAV platoon, BLT 3/2.
“It’s like trying to ride a unicycle, juggle, and do something else that’s hard,” said Sgt. Kevin Hicks, AAV operator from Woodbridge, Va. The R7 is just capable of lifting the complete power plant for the AAV, said Griffith. “Without the R7, we’d be in trouble,” said Whitehead. But the presence of the M-88 opens other options, including using its crane boom, designed to recover fully armored main battle tanks from intractable positions, to lift the unwieldy engine block.
CLB’s presence helps speed along other aspects of the work, as well. “The second echelon mechanics in AAV platoon will identify a problem. They’ll bring it to me to verify,” said Griffith. “I work through my channels in CLB side to get the information back to the ships,” he said, referring to his ability as maintenance and ordnance chief for the CLB to help facilitate logistical support for the entire MEU.
The CLB and BLT will continue to work closely with each other and the rest of the MEU as the deployment continues. Marines and Sailors of the 26th MEU are spread across the three ships of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group, and in locales around the world, facilitating the mission of the 26th MEU. “The key is having a good working relationship and doing everything in my power to get them what they need so they can operate,” said Griffith.