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Mobile Container Inspection Team works to ensure shipping containers' seaworthiness

Jan 26, 2010

By Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg, 13th ESC public affairs

CONTINGENCY OPERATING LOCATION NORMANDY, Iraq -- As the U.S. prepares for the upcoming drawdown of troops and equipment from Iraq, its service members work together to make positive the footprint it leaves behind.

The Mobile Container Inspection Team with the 514th Maintenance Company, 80th Ordnance Battalion, 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), travels the country to ensure the thousands of containers in theater are seaworthy and ready to be sent back to the U.S. or support contingency operations in Afghanistan.

"The problem we're having here is there are so many containers and no one was tracking them," said Staff Sgt. Donald Stokes, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 514th MCIT and a Waterbury, Conn., native.

When a unit puts in an inspection request to the battalion, a two or three-man MCIT is sent out to track the number of seaworthy containers and decide which ones will require repair before they can be shipped out, said Stokes.

Stokes said his team has inspected roughly 1,500 containers since its arrival in Iraq in June.

The inspection process is thorough and the team must maintain a strict focus to ensure nothing is missed, said Spc. Justin Nichols, a metal worker with the 514th Maint. Co. and a member of the MCIT.

"When we're here, we're dedicated to the container and nothing else," said Nichols, a White Hall, Ark., native.

Nichols said the team performs a walk around of the container, checking the inside, outside and bottom for any dents, frame or floor damage, and leaks in the door seals or walls. The container is then categorized as seaworthy or placed in one of three levels of repair based on the amount of damage, he said.

Even a dent as small as three-fourths of an inch could render a container immobile.

"We're here to see what containers are ready to go," said Nichols. "We're not here to fix them."

Nichols said the team can make some level-one repairs on site, such as fixing small dents or bends in the frame, but more complex jobs are sent to the container repair yard at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

Stokes said small dents or other damage may not seem important at first, but they become critical when it comes time to redeploy or redistribute them.

"If they don't sit level, it causes problems with stacking on the barges," he said.

Nichols said the importance of having had an MCIT travel to a unit's location and inspect containers beforehand becomes clear when it comes time for them redeploy.

"It saves a lot of their time," he said. "It's a very valuable asset."

Though the MCIT speeds up unit redeployment and saves the Army money on container repair, Stokes said he is most proud of the fact that his team is playing an important role in the upcoming drawdown of Soldiers and equipment from theater.

"It's the whole process of removing our footprint in Iraq," said Stokes. "Everybody does their part."

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