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Vehicle maintainers keep Balad rollin'

by Senior Airman Candace Romano
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

5/18/2007 - BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFNEWS)  -- Some of the dirtiest combat boots on base can be found in hardened aircraft shelters where vehicle maintainers with the 332nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron work elbow deep in grease-covered auto parts and claim "the only thing we can't fix is your driving."

The maintainers, responsible for more than 1,200 vehicles of the base's Air Force vehicle fleet, keep mission-critical vehicles rolling for cargo movement and emergency response.

"Without us maintaining vehicles, the aerial port flight wouldn't be able to move tons of cargo, fuel trucks, couldn't pump fuel for jets, and firefighters couldn't get to fires ... nothing moves unless we're doing our jobs," said Tech. Sgt. Jeff Yeargan, customer service center NCO in charge. "We support our customers so they can support the mission."

The vehicle maintenance flight is comprised of three sections: customer service, general purpose and special purpose vehicles. Each section is tailored specifically to meet the needs of the different vehicles that support the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing's mission.

They maintain an assortment of vehicles, including fire trucks, ambulances, forklifts, runway sweepers, cargo loaders and other special purpose and general vehicles -- whether the vehicles need a light bulb replaced, or an engine overhaul. 

"We perform quality control inspections on vehicles, and if they have problems, we start the needed paperwork and have one of the mechanics work on the vehicle," said Sergeant Yeargan, who deployed here from Minot Air Force Base, N.D.

The sergeant said they fix anything that takes less than two hours on the spot.

Special purpose vehicles are a top priority because they can be critical to the mission.

"The special purpose section maintains vehicles for the aerial port flight, the fire department and (aerospace ground equipment) maintainers," said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Draper, the special purpose section NCO in charge. "They are all critical to the mission, and by ensuring their vehicles are serviceable, we make it possible for them to complete their mission."

According to Tech. Sgt. Edwin Rollins, NCOIC of the general purpose section, said the workload is much higher in the deployed environment.

"We definitely have a higher operations tempo in the deployed environment," said Sergeant Rollins, who deployed from McGuire AFB, N.J., on his second tour of duty in Iraq. "But it can be challenging at times. If we don't have needed parts on hand, we have to order them, and the wait time for parts is longer than stateside where we can drive downtown for whatever we need."

The combat zone's harsh environmental conditions also present challenges most vehicle maintainers don't see at their home stations.

"A lot of the vehicles here are used 24/7 and take a lot of wear and tear because of the environment," Sergeant Yeargan said.

A sprawling base like Balad and co-located Logistics Support Area Anaconda also see its share of vehicle accidents, with more than 10 government-owned and leased vehicles involved in accidents every week.

"Vehicle accidents mainly occur due to negligence on peoples' part," said Staff Sgt. Rose-Marie Thames, assistant lease program coordinator, deployed from Charleston AFB, S.C.

Base personnel need to be aware of their surroundings, whether they're driving or not, said Sergeant Rollins, who has 15 years time in service.

When accidents happen, Staff Sgt. William Miller finds himself very busy as the only auto body repair technician on the base.

"The best part of my job is restoring damaged vehicles," said Sergeant Miller, who deployed from Minot AFB, N.D. "We work hard to maintain the vehicles and keep them out of the shop.'"

The vehicle maintenance flight sees the results of their work firsthand -- when the mission gets done. The flight's mission-capable rate and maintenance of the average vehicle fleet exceeds 90 percent, according to Sergeant Thames.

"We know the majority of these vehicles are vital to the mission," said Staff Sgt. Joi Turner, a material controller deployed from Aviano AB, Italy. "Knowing everyone else can do their job without transportation being a factor is the satisfaction we receive from our customers and mechanics. As long as vehicles keep rolling, the mission can continue."

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