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Boat mechanics keep mission afloat for Small Craft Company

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 5/24/2004

Story by Lance Cpl. Macario P. Mora Jr.

HADITHAH DAM, Iraq(May 19, 2004) -- Small Craft Company is keeping their boats afloat with a little bit of ingenuity, a steady amount a sweat and healthy dose of determination.

The Small Craft Company detachment here, from Camp Lejeune, N.C., is operating its boats on the hard work and creativity of its Marines.

It's no small task for the Marines maintaining and operating Zodiac Combat Reconnaissance Raiding Crafts, Rigid Raiding Crafts and Riverine Assault Crafts. They're constantly using the boats in troop transport missions, reconnaissance patrols and supply transports. They're also doing it with equipment that's outlived its lifespan by at least ten years.

"These guys make it happen," said Sgt. Chris Cayo, a RAC boat captain from Carthage, Texas. "Most of the time we don't even know anything is wrong because they're constantly fixing stuff."

The company's been busy on the water here in western Iraq. They're protecting the dam here, a source of hydroelectric power for much of Al Anbar Province. It's a key site to keep power flowing to Iraqi citizens. The Marines are constantly patrolling, countering threats.

Still, the operations take a toll on the equipment.

"It seems like every time we go out something breaks down," said Cpl. Matthew B. Lupton, a boat mechanic from Roselle, Ill. "Thankfully, though, nothing major has happened."

Weeks before deploying to Iraq the maintenance platoon worked around the clock to ensure they were ready for combat.

"This is our first combat operation with the company," Cayo explained. "So, we came as prepared as we could."

One of the biggest problems for the water-borne Marines in Iraq has been rocks jamming the propellers in the engines; not allowing water flow through the engines and keeping the boats out of the fight.

"We've had a few down from blown engines," said Sgt. Joe Alvarez Jr., an electronic system repair specialist from Syracuse, N.Y. "But once we get our equipment from Al Asad they'll be up and running again. We work with what we got."

The maintenance cycles are even more hectic than that of their combat operations. Marines are constantly up to their elbows in grease and are equally at ease with a wrench in their hand as they are with a rifle.

"We've been busy due to an increase in missions," Alvarez said. "So we're using our downtime to ensure they're ready."

Small Craft Marines are also finding out they're in greater demand. Combat missions increased since they first arrived in theater with the 1st Marine Division. They filled in for regular infantry forces and as situations in the region changed, their boats became a greater asset to area commanders.

"When we first got here we were doing a lot of ground stuff," Cayo said. "We had to act as the react force and do a lot of other things. But, now... we've been able to focus more of our attention on the water and our boats."

According to Sgt. Johnny Bentacu, section maintenance chief from Albuquerque, N.M., helping keep the boats afloat is made easier by following a few simple rules.

"Attention to detail is essential on these boats," Bentacu said. "We're doing good with what we have. My guys are the best for the job. We may not have all the parts we need but we get by with what we got."

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