BAGHDAD — Army mechanics on a second tour of Iraq have the luxury of home bases to store their toolboxes this time around, but that doesn’t mean they’re just hanging around the garage.

With convoys making multiple hauls to 3rd Infantry Division installations and Humvees patrolling Baghdad sectors around the clock, mechanics are riding along to ensure soldiers don’t wind up outside the wire with more than a simple blown tire to worry about.

“We usually go out about two to three times a week,” said Spc. Scott Johnson of Apple Valley, Calif., assigned to Company B, 26th Forward Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade at Forward Operating Base Rustamiyah.

“We go out so they don’t get stuck somewhere.”

Crews stayed busy pulling vehicles out of the mud and slop created by four days of torrential downpours in the Baghdad area earlier in March.

Staff Sgt. Terrell Lee of Geneva, Ala., the noncommissioned officer in charge of Company B’s service and recovery section, said it’s vital to get vehicles out of potentially harmful situations as quickly as possible.

“Snatch it up, get it to a safe area and see what’s wrong with it,” he said. “It’s not really difficult. We just go out and do it. Don’t dwell on it too long. Just go out and get the job done.”

Warrant Officer John Johnson of Brunswick, Ga., the maintenance head for Company B, 603rd Aviation Support Battalion, Aviation Brigade at Camp Taji, about 25 miles north of Baghdad, said his unit supports the ground vehicles essential to keeping Apaches, Black Hawks and Chinooks in the air.

“We run 24-hour operations here,” he said. “Anything that breaks down, we repair, even if that takes place outside the wire. We’ve got gunner Humvees that can go off base.”

Maintenance personnel who took part in the 2003 march into Baghdad are discovering a far different occupational environment, at least when vehicles are brought back inside the gates for repair.

“We used to have to work in the sand on the desert floor. Now we have buildings with concrete,” said Capt. Travis Chapman of Merritt Island, Fla., shop officer for the 632nd Maintenance Company, 87th Corps Support Battalion, Division Support Brigade at Taji.

“This is a different environment on vehicles. They take a beating out here, and that doesn’t even take into account IEDs and other small-arms fire.”

Maintainers who accompany convoys certainly aren’t insulated from dangers on the road, Johnson said. Early in the deployment, he was among a group caught in a brief firefight with insurgents. Their convoys, like many working for the 3rd ID’s Task Force Baghdad, also have been hit by roadside bombs.

But he doesn’t fret about the risks.

“We came home last time, and we weren’t as protected as we are now," he said, referring to the upgraded armor added to most military vehicles for Operation Iraqi Freedom III.

“If it happens, it happens. You can’t worry about it. Just kiss your good luck charm and hope for the best.”

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