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Reassembling a .50-caliber machine gun for re-positioning on a truck are, left to right, Spc. Marquis Goddard, 20, a native of Beaufort, S.C., Spc. Shawn Nelson, 23, of East Liverpool, Ohio, and Sgt. Anthony Cantrell, 35, from Longview, Wash.
Reassembling a .50-caliber machine gun for re-positioning on a truck are, left to right, Spc. Marquis Goddard, 20, a native of Beaufort, S.C., Spc. Shawn Nelson, 23, of East Liverpool, Ohio, and Sgt. Anthony Cantrell, 35, from Longview, Wash. (Les Neuhaus / S&S)
Reassembling a .50-caliber machine gun for re-positioning on a truck are, left to right, Spc. Marquis Goddard, 20, a native of Beaufort, S.C., Spc. Shawn Nelson, 23, of East Liverpool, Ohio, and Sgt. Anthony Cantrell, 35, from Longview, Wash.
Reassembling a .50-caliber machine gun for re-positioning on a truck are, left to right, Spc. Marquis Goddard, 20, a native of Beaufort, S.C., Spc. Shawn Nelson, 23, of East Liverpool, Ohio, and Sgt. Anthony Cantrell, 35, from Longview, Wash. (Les Neuhaus / S&S)
Checking a 9,000-lb, 1,500-horse power Abrams tank engine are Spc. Walter Mullins, 24, left, from Killeen, Texas, a mechanic, and Spc. Josh Ake, 26, LaPorte, Ind., who is a tanker.
Checking a 9,000-lb, 1,500-horse power Abrams tank engine are Spc. Walter Mullins, 24, left, from Killeen, Texas, a mechanic, and Spc. Josh Ake, 26, LaPorte, Ind., who is a tanker. (Les Neuhaus / S&S)
Spc. Nathan Schneider, 21, of Las Vegas peers through the top of an engine.
Spc. Nathan Schneider, 21, of Las Vegas peers through the top of an engine. (Les Neuhaus / S&S)
Spc. David Eberidge, 21, foreground, a native of Harrisonburg, Va., and Spc. Michael Kuttruff, 31, of LeRoy, N.Y., work on a Humvee at the vehicle maintenance garage at Forward Operating Base Rustamiyah in eastern Baghdad. The men belong to the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, which is a unit of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Brigade.
Spc. David Eberidge, 21, foreground, a native of Harrisonburg, Va., and Spc. Michael Kuttruff, 31, of LeRoy, N.Y., work on a Humvee at the vehicle maintenance garage at Forward Operating Base Rustamiyah in eastern Baghdad. The men belong to the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, which is a unit of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Brigade. (Les Neuhaus / S&S)

FORWARD OPERATING BASE RUSTAMIYAH, Iraq — They work in one of the least exciting career fields the Army has to offer, some might think. But without them, few missions would be accomplished in Iraq or elsewhere.

They are the unheralded mechanics of the maintenance garage. And at one base in eastern Baghdad they keep the Humvees, Bradley fighting vehicles, Abrams tanks and roadside-bomb- hunting vehicles on the road.

Although infantry troops or special-forces personnel have little interaction with them, they are heavily reliant on the people who maintain the trucks they use to get to operational objectives, away from a gun battle, or worse — rush wounded soldiers to a hospital.

“We try to keep the guys in the fight,” Sgt. 1st Class Ivan Spells, 38, from Chicago, said Friday. “The things the troops do out there put a lot of strain on the vehicles they use.”

He’s not kidding. A survey of the back lot at Rustamiyah’s maintenance garage gives a glimpse into the violence troops face while patrolling, along with the simple hazards of mechanical failure outside the wire.

Blown-up Bradleys and scarred Humvees lie around, some waiting to be fixed, others being used for scrap. A few are deemed fit only for the great resting place in the sky for heaping hulks.

Spells and others at the garage belong to the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, which is a unit of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Brigade. Other divisional elements also work in the yard.

The mechanics work around the clock because most vehicles cannot afford to be out of service for more than a few days. However, some tanks and route-clearance vehicles can take several weeks to repair.

Sgt. 1st Class Augusta Creech, a native of Wilson, N.C., said his primary route-clearance vehicle, a South African-made monster known as a “Buffalo,” was just returned to 1st platoon after a month of servicing.

“Another one is still in the shop from an IED [improvised explosive device] two weeks ago,” the 37-year-old platoon sergeant said before mounting up for a patrol on Saturday.

But imagine having to haul out a 9,000-pound, 1,500-horsepower engine from a tank.

“It’s a lot of fun, but it’s more tedious than anything,” said Spc. Walter Mullins, 24, from Killeen, Texas, as he gazed upon the Herculean motor. “This engine pack right here weighs more than most modern cars.”

Most take their work in stride. They know a lot is riding on them, but they say they are glad to be doing what they do.

Spc. Fernando Jones, 22, said the job has its ups and downs, but at least they keep solid schedules, getting off at nearly the same time every day, as opposed to infantry troops who have to work arduous, long hours with little sleep on constantly shifting schedules.

“The bad part about our work here is that I can’t go home to my wife at the end of every day,” the Montgomery, Ala., native said.

He’s able to keep himself occupied though. He and his buddy, Spc. Tremayne Smith, 24, from Burgaw, N.C., have a little rap group at the base they call “Stack ‘N’ Chips.”

They have a tune that is popular with the troops, they say, dubbed “Outlaws Comin’.”

Outlaws or not, the mechanics want nothing more than to return to their loved ones safely, and to keep other troops in well-maintained trucks.

“They work hard, so that’s what matters,” Spells said.

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