HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
Convoys provide vital lifelines for troops, supplies and vehicles across Afghanistan; however, it requires an immense amount of teamwork, dedication and proficiency to keep these assets moving across the vast desert terrain.
Motor transport Marines of Marine Wing Support Squadron 373, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), spend a portion of every day performing various levels of preventative maintenance on their vehicles to ensure they are ready to roll on any mission at any time.
“There are [basic and advanced] levels of maintenance for the vehicles. We are doing [basic] first echelon maintenance daily,” said Sgt. Shane Hunter during a convoy making its way through southern Helmand province in support of an International Security Assistance Force operation. “The first echelon maintenance consists of ensuring mirrors, lights, fluids and everything that applies to safety is in good working condition. Believe it or not, even if the air conditioning goes out on a vehicle, it deadlines that vehicle.”
A vehicle is classified deadlined if it is inoperable or unsafe to operate. Something as little as air conditioning, which many every-day drivers take for granted, can mean life or death for the crew of a convoy vehicle while traveling the arid environment here from dawn until dusk.
“With all of the armor on these vehicles, you cannot roll down the window. The heat out here can lead to dehydration, a heart attack or a stroke,” continued Hunter, a tactical vehicle mechanic with the MWSS-373 “Aces.”
By conducting preventative maintenance, the Marines keep their vehicles in top working condition, which reduces the chances of any mechanical issues while convoying through the desert. Depending on the size of the convoy, one broken vehicle can put dozens of other vehicles and Marines in danger.
Additionally, a halted convoy dramatically delays the scheduled arrival time of the convoy and the delivery of vital troops and supplies. These delays can push back the execution of operations being carried out by the Marines by up to several days.
“When a vehicle goes down, you’re a sitting target,” said Cpl. Marshall Brennan, a tactical vehicle operator for MWSS-373. “You have the downed vehicle, the support vehicles and Marines out of their vehicles all focusing on a repair or rigging for tow – not potential threats.”
There are numerous potential threats across the battlespace including improvised explosive devices, insurgent snipers or observation from enemy forces.
Security vehicles provide continuous cover for the Marines attempting to recover any downed vehicles; however, the intent is to get the convoy ‘on the move’ as soon as possible. Keeping this objective in mind, the MWSS-373 Marines have established a rule of thumb to keep time spent halted to a minimum.
“We have a vehicle recovery plan to ensure the convoy doesn’t spend too much time at any unsafe location: five minutes to look it over, 10 minutes to rig for tow or 15 minutes to fix it,” said Hunter. “Roughly, it should take a maximum of 30 minutes to get the convoy moving again.”
Convoys here can take anywhere from a few hours, to several days depending on the distance traveled and any complications which occur after departure.
Although a quick flight from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ may appear to be the simplest solution, some objectives can only be obtained through wheels on the ground.
“Flying equipment and supplies is always going to be a faster mode of travel, but some assets just can’t be flown,” said Brennan, a Rochester, Minn., native. “By convoying supplies and fuel trucks to a remote location, we can set up an expeditionary resupply point for tactical vehicles and aircraft, which can dramatically affect the speed and efficiency of operations and expedite [medical evacuations] if needed.”
MWSS-373 motor transport Marines may seem to be the odd-men out, being composed of tactical and utility vehicles in a Marine Aircraft Wing, but their role is crucial and no less important to the 3rd MAW (Fwd) mission. Their efforts here continue to allow ISAF to engage the enemy on multiple fronts and keep the Marines fighting in every clime and place.