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When it comes to dangerous missions, no one is exempt in the 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment.

Maintenance crews, which keep the battalion’s 200 vehicles running, often have to work around the clock.

If a particular part comes in at 11:30 p.m., the crew responsible for the broken vehicle immediately heads to the maintenance bay, said Capt. Austin Moffitt, the battalion’s maintenance officer.

Iraq’s rough roads and the enormous weight of the armored vehicles exponentially increase wear and tear.

“We’ve gone through about 300 tires in five months,” said Sgt. Darren Ivey of Willingboro, N.J., who is in charge of providing parts for the battalion’s vehicles. “In garrison, maybe we would go through 60 tires a year.”

The toughest jobs come outside the safety of the secure maintenance bays.

Maintenance crewmembers ride along on convoys outside of Baghdad and have the unenviable task of recovering damaged vehicles.

Sgt. Ngala Benn and his driver, Pfc. Anthony Zamora, have completed seven major recovery missions since April using the behemoth (and non-air-conditioned) recovery vehicle nicknamed “Hookah.”

Of those missions, four have drawn enemy fire, Benn said.

Getting shot at is never fun, especially when you are otherwise occupied and can’t shoot back, Benn said.

The pair’s worst mission came earlier this month.

After a roadside bomb disabled a Humvee on the outskirts of Baghdad, Benn and Zamora got the call to bring it back.

Even before the rescue convoy got to the damaged Humvee, the recovery team hit a makeshift roadblock of trash tossed in the road.

“We went around it, but we noticed a guy calling on a phone, and then he ran,” Benn said. “By the time we got [to the broken vehicle], the mortars were falling.”

It was a full-out ambush.

As the team rolled to a stop, the small-arms fire erupted. Benn and Zamora could see the puffs of concrete dust as the bullets cratered the walls of nearby buildings.

“I looked at [Zamora] and said, ‘OK, it’s time to party,’” Benn said. “He knew what I meant. We already had a plan.”

The pair took a deep breath, opened the doors of their armored sanctuary and slipped into the firestorm. They raced to the crippled Humvee and began attaching it to the winch of “Hookah.”

They worked as fast as they could.

“It took us about seven minutes” to get the vehicle ready to tow, Benn said. “That’s hot. That’s really hot. Normally, with no pressure, it would be 10 or 15 minutes.”

Busy as they were fighting off the ambush, the soldiers providing security couldn’t help but marvel at Benn and Zamora’s courage.

“All the guys who were watching were really impressed,” said Staff Sgt. Theodore Greer, of Compton, Calif. “Bullets were flying over [Benn’s] head, but he just kept working.”

Such bravery, however, is not only par for the course in the well-seasoned battalion, it’s expected, the sergeants said.

“As NCOs, we cannot show fear,” Greer said flatly, as Benn and the other sergeants nodded in agreement. “The minute we do show fear, our soldiers lose faith in us.”


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