FORT IRWIN, Calif — The metal-on-metal screech ground their operation to a halt.
“What is that?” asked Pfc. Joe Trepanier, his hands guiding a 6,000-pound engine hoisted on a crane.
The Bradley Fighting Vehicle talked to the mechanics of a Fort Carson battalion training in the Mojave desert with creaks and moans from its engine compartment. Sgt. James Carlton, a mechanic specializing in wheeled vehicles, interpreted.
“Whatever it is, it doesn’t sound good,” Carlton said.
Carlton isn’t the only one reacquainting himself with the Army’s heavy hitters.
The move to train Army soldiers against forces that rival their own has left mechanics with the 1st Brigade Combat Team maintaining a fleet of vehicles seldom used in recent years, including tanks.
Their biggest test to date began in late October at Fort Irwin where a regiment of fellow soldiers used tanks, Bradleys and artillery to battle the Fort Carson brigade.
The brigade is the third this year to undergo training at the National Training Center. Until a brigade with the 3rd Infantry Division came to the center this spring, units focused mainly on fighting insurgents, not armies.
In Afghanistan — where the unit deployed from summer 2010 through summer 2011 — 1st Brigade mechanics maintained a fleet of Humvees and armored trucks capable of surviving mine blasts.
Those vehicles still fill the battlefield. But there were signs of change.
A steady stream of the Bradleys — machines that can carry up to six troops while spitting out 25mm rounds and guided missiles — pulled in for repair throughout the week.
Dust swirled every time a new vehicle appeared, adding to the oil and antifreeze evident on most soldiers during the two weeks they go without a shower during the training exercise.
Computer systems inside the vehicle’s turrets topped the list of maladies. Oil leaks and coolant leaks occupied much of the mechanics time.
The ever-present sand and gravel caused Bradley tracks to derail — more often attributed to poor driving than mechanics.
The vehicle in front of Carlton needed a starter. To replace it, they had to hoist the three-ton engine and transmission from the vehicle, breaking an aging coolant sensor in the process.
A few four-letter words peppered the clucks coming from the Bradley’s engine compartment.
As Carlton finished the fix, small squeaks were all that sounded as he twisted a few wires together.
By the next morning, all but one of the Bradley’s in Carlton’s unit, the 7th Squadron of the 10th Cavalry Regiment, worked as they headed into battle, said Maj. Michael Schoenfeldt, the squadron’s executive officer.
The effort meant a small break before the next Bradley rumbled into their camp.
“Unfortunately, they’re waiting for the next fix,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Edison Rebuck, the brigade’s top enlisted soldier. “We don’t praise them enough.”