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Petty Officer 3rd Class Manuel Lopez, a reservist from Los Angeles, builds boxes for storing Seabee's gear. The boxes are packed into shipping containers and loaded on ships.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Manuel Lopez, a reservist from Los Angeles, builds boxes for storing Seabee's gear. The boxes are packed into shipping containers and loaded on ships. (Juliana Gittler / S&S)

CAMP MOREELL, Kuwait — Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Trapp has one of the most hated jobs in his battalion.

The construction mechanic from Fort Pierce, Fla., is one of 34 sailors who are spending all day, every day, washing vehicles.

“It becomes tedious,” Trapp said of cleaning the forklifts, bulldozers and trucks that were used by Navy Seabees to help troops across Iraq. All the equipment has to be cleaned thoroughly before it can be sent home.

Sailors’ supplies, such as helmets and packs, are stacked and stored nearby.

It’s part of the Seabees slow progression home from the war.

They’ll eventually ship out 1,700 pieces and 600 containers, enough to fully outfit three Seabee battalions and a support unit. They’re about 60 percent complete and just celebrated processing their 1,000th piece.

As gear returns from Iraq, it’s cleaned, signed off, catalogued and packaged away for shipment to Rota, Spain; Gulfport, Miss.; or Port Hueneme, Calif. — the Seabee hubs.

At Camp Moreell, where all the cleaning and packaging takes place, groups are dotted around the camp as they prepare for the next ship to take their supplies home.

Back at the wash racks, the vehicles, a large bridge and other parts coming through are in pretty bad shape.

“They are very dirty,” Trapp said. “Some pieces take two to three days to clean.”

Water pressurized at 3,000 pounds-per-square-inch will take off all the grease and grime.

“With 3,000, you can take off paint,” said Trapp, with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133. It can also damage wires and delicate parts of vehicles so the sailors must use care and caution.

The washers use about 16,000 to 20,000 gallons of water each day. The vehicles are cleaned to a Department of Agriculture standard so there’s no foreign matter brought back to the States.

When vehicles are around, the washers can do 30 to 40 a day. There has been a dearth lately as the war winds down. Vehicles are cleaned and staged until they’re brought to the port. Bridge parts are cleaned, dried and crammed into containers for shipping.

“It’s not a real exciting job,” Trapp said. “But it’s something that has to be done.”

At least being by water all day is cooler, and novel for those tired of the dry, dusty desert.

“The good thing about the wash rack is you work until you get cold, you wait 10 minutes, dry off and you’re hot again,” said constructionman Matt Embree, a builder with NMCB 133.

The sailors have more relaxed conditions — they wear physical training gear instead of desert camouflage, for example.

“We try to make it fun for everyone around here,” Trapp said.

But don’t expect it to look like the movie “Car Wash,” he adds.

“With everything, safety is first.”

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