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Airmen add armor to Army vehicles

by Senior Airman Colleen Wronek
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

2/25/2005 - BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- Fifty Airmen and more than 150 civilians worldwide are doing a very important job, but not for the Air Force.

Vehicle maintainers from the 732nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron add armor to Army vehicles that venture off the base.

"It's kind of historic (and) ground breaking because we are (adding armor just to) Army vehicles. It has nothing to do with the Air Force mission," said Senior Master Sgt. Hank Stripling, 732nd ELRS vehicle maintenance superintendent. "When a truck leaves here, Soldiers are protected because of what these Airmen have done."

The Airmen are augmenting the Army's project management tactical vehicles armor program.

Five civilian instructors working for different contractors taught the Airmen how to add armor to the vehicles.

"Before this, they had no clue how to (add armor), but within two weeks, all the crews were on their own," said Sergeant Stripling who is an Air National Guardsman from Fort Smith, Ark. "Now the instructors (add the armor) and answer questions."

Sergeant Stripling said the Airmen add armor to the vehicle's cab, new seats are put in for comfort on long rides, air-conditioning is installed, new front bumpers are added and the vehicle gets new doors and windshields.

"Air conditioning is very important because there's no ventilation in the truck," Sergeant Stripling said. "During the summer, it can get extremely hot in the cab, and you can't roll down the windows because then the armor would be pointless."

Sergeant Stripling said the armor is extremely effective and can withstand almost anything thrown at it.

"The glass and doors don't fail," he said.

The Airmen can add armor to as many as seven trucks a night.

"We don't grab a truck off the (street)," Sergeant Stripling said. "The Army says they want a certain number of certain types of vehicles (worked on). Soldiers bring the vehicles in, and we inspect them to make sure there's no major problem. We (add the armor), and the truck is on its way."

One of the vehicle maintainers was on a convoy last year and said he knows the importance of driving an armored vehicle.

"When I was here in February 2004, I deployed as a convoy vehicle operations gunner," said Senior Airman Shawn Hisel, a 732nd ELRS vehicle maintainer from the Tennessee National Guard at Nashville. "We used sandbags, plywood, metal plates, filled doors with sand -- anything to make the vehicle stronger."

Airman Hisel said being deployed a second time to add armor to vehicles is very rewarding.

"I enjoy it. I got a good crew. We work hard and (get) one more truck safely out the door," he said. "I feel a whole lot better knowing the vehicles that leave the installation have protection."

Sergeant Stripling said his Airmen show pride in their work.

"It's different than being at the home station doing routine maintenance such as an oil change," he said. "You know within a few days that vehicle you worked on is on the road and protecting lives. My maintainers know what we do is worthwhile and gratifying.">

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