AL ASAD, Iraq -- As the sun sets ending another hot desert day, 'Ironmen' with wrenches, air tools and jacks begin their nightly duties of changing tires, belts, engines and transmissions so ground forces can keep operating during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The mechanics of Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, work from sunset to sunrise ensuring that every vehicle they are responsible for will never break down stranding their troops.
"Our job is to make sure all the gear keeps running properly," said Sgt. Ernest C. Geiger IV, heavy equipment maintenance chief, MWSS-274. "This way everyone can keep doing their jobs and not be slowed down by broken equipment."
While running convoys through the hostile areas of a combat zone, there are many things that can affect the outcome of a mission. The mechanics go above and beyond to make sure the last worry on the troops mind is vehicle problems.
"When we get a vehicle into our shop, we do a complete bumper-to-bumper inspection," said Geiger. "If it has something broken or missing, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, that vehicle won't leave our shop without a replacement."
The mechanics ensure that each vehicle is road-ready by checking and re-checking every part on it. If something is broken or looks like it could cause problems, the Marines order the parts needed and that vehicle or machine stays in their shop until it's done.
"We work on everything out here," said Geiger. "Transmissions, engines, frames, tires and bodies are just a few of the things that we go over on the night shift."
While working on vehicles at night may seem harder than day due to lack of light, the Marines prefer it because of the cooler temperatures that come with the darkness.
"We have lights all over our compound," said Staff Sgt. Jason M. Knowles, maintenance chief, MWSS-274. "We do most of our work in the lot or in the maintenance bays."
The Marines work 12-hour shifts with the majority of the maintaining done at night; there are other missions that the mechanics must participate in.
"If there are any of our machines or vehicles on a convoy or operation at the base, we have to have a mechanic there," said Knowles. "We try to make sure that each Marine gets a chance to get out on these missions so they can experience it."
While rotating out on missions, the mechanics get a first-hand look as to why it is so important to have good running equipment outside the wire.
"My biggest concern is safety and making sure everything is done right," said Cpl. Andrew J. Cegla, organizational automotive mechanic, MWSS-274. "If we don't make sure everything is done right and the vehicle breaks down outside the wire, that could put our Marines in a very dangerous situation."
Being out of harms way most of the time gives these motivators a chance to focus on bettering themselves and their Marine Corps careers by preparing for meritorious boards and working on schooling.
"Maintenance Marines have won all the meritorious boards within the MWSS," said Knowles. "We have a great track record and we just keep getting better."
After four months of hard work and extreme conditions the maintenance Marines of MWSS-274 have kept their equipment at a continuous rate of 95 percent readiness.