AL ASAD, Iraq -- In the Iraqi desert, electricity and cool air can be considered a scarce commodity. Almost every individual deployed to the sandy environment has to use power in some way, and cool air is needed to keep the equipment providing the power running.
However, both necessities don't just fall out of the sky into the lap of the person using it. There are service members whose jobs are dedicated to keeping the generators and air conditioners around the base running, so that their fellow Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen can enjoy the comforts of cool air and electricity flowing into their workstations.
The utility Marines with Marine Wing Communications Squadron 38, Marine Air Control Group 38 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, are responsible for maintaining a constant supply of power to all communications gear, as well as to keep all tactical gear cool.
"We do that mainly with preventive maintenance," said Cpl. Richard S. Jackel, generator mechanic, MWCS-38. "We go through weekly changes on oil and fuel filters. We are always checking the engines and making sure that we change out the generators every week, so one of them isn't running for too long."
Providing power to the communications for the Wing is an important job, according to Jackel, a 22-year-old native of Dallas.
"We have three main grids that have to have constant power," the graduate of Nimitz High School stated. "If we get the word that a generator is down, we have to get there in five to ten minutes and get it back online."
"All of the communications gear that is powered up is also air conditioned," said Sgt. Kyle D. Schmalzer, refrigeration mechanic, MWCS-38. "If the air conditioner or generator goes down, it is a bad situation for both of us."
The main battles the utility Marines find themselves fighting are the conditions of Iraq.
"Out here, our biggest challenge is high pressure," said Schmalzer, a 23-year-old native of Milwaukee. "The dust and the heat is what causes the high pressure. The dust blocks the filters. When the filters get blocked, the equipment can't cool itself off, and then it will overheat. That's usually when things decide to break. The hotter it gets, the more problems we have."
Although it's an endless struggle for the Marines to keep the gear constantly running, it won't be the first obstacle they have overcome during this deployment.
"When we first got here, we were severely undermanned," said Jackel. "Between the two of us, we were working about 15 hours a day for the first two months. After we got every grid at 100 percent though, it was just the matter of maintaining them.
"Now, we work pretty decent days," he added. "The more preventive maintenance we do, the less corrective maintenance we have to do. We work around eight-hour shifts now, but if duty calls, we will work late shifts, too."
According to Jackel, the whole unit would be affected if the utility Marines weren't there to do their jobs.
"The utilities section is the basic foundation for the entire mission," Jackel concluded. "Everyone can say, 'without communications, we wouldn't have a mission,' but without us, there wouldn't be communications. If we don't power them, they don't have that constant connection. It all starts with us."