Staff Sgts. Tim Husketh and Dmitriy Burshteyn maintain an arsenal of vehicles in Afghanistan. The deployed environment provides a challenging working atmosphere for vehicle maintainers who keep the fleet ready despite extreme heat, mountainous terrain, lack of parts and the dangers of improvised explosive devices. (Produced by Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)
Mechanics like Staff Sgts. Scott Bolduc and Nicholas Joseph Burdick are accustomed to having their work destroyed within minutes when vehicles move outside the wire. Bolduc remembers sending out a truck with a fixed tire, only to have it return to base with four flats. Then, there are days when vehicles return in a lot worse shape and the maintainers appreciate the impact of their work.
“You might see a vehicle come in that got ambushed with bullet holes in the window, and you think, that was a faulty window two weeks ago, and I personally put in a brand new window. If I didn’t do that, it could have meant somebody’s life,” Burdick said. “It feels great when you see everybody come back safe, and they’re telling the story of whatever happened and say, ‘Because of you, we got the mission done.’”
Bolduc and Burdick are both vehicle maintainers with the 87th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., and deployed to Iraq in the last three years of the war. Both say their job involves much more than most Airmen might imagine, especially in a deployed environment like Iraq or Afghanistan.
“A lot of people seem to think we’re like a Jiffy Lube, and all we do is change oil,” Bolduc said. “We actually go inside the engines, whether we’re replacing the pistons and rings, or working with suspensions or problems with the brakes. We do it all. We learn everything about the vehicles and continue to learn as they advance with more technology. We’re doing everything we can, with any vehicle that comes in, to ensure they’re not going to break down or have any kind of mechanical issues when they go outside the wire.”
Deployed vehicle maintainers generally work on the same types of trucks they do at their home station, such as up-armored Humvees, six-passenger pickup trucks like the F-250 and F-350, and many Dodge Dakotas. While neither mechanic has deployed to Afghanistan yet in their careers, Burdick says the challenges there are similar to what he faced in his tours at three different locations in Iraq.
“A lot of it is comparable,” he said. “They have a few scenarios where it may be a little rougher (in Afghanistan) because of the mountain terrain, and their trucks get beat up a little more in the suspension aspect. But for the most part, the combat environments are pretty much the same in Iraq, Afghanistan, and wherever we’re seeing a lot of the action today.”
Maintaining vehicles downrange involves challenges mechanics normally don’t face at their stateside base. They usually have heavier workloads with fewer mechanics on 12-hour shifts, and it takes longer for parts to be shipped to their deployed location.
“Some parts take up to two weeks to show up before we can get the vehicles back in service,” Bolduc said.
Also, some vehicles are driven like they’re part of what Burdick describes as “a giant rental fleet,” with some being driven more recklessly than he thinks is necessary, and maintainers don’t have the quality of tools they have at their home base.
“Pretty much every mechanic becomes like MacGyver,” Burdick said. “You might need a wrench to fit a certain area, but you don’t have the right angle, so you might cut and re-weld it to fit the angle you need to get the job done. You’ll see a lot of reconfigured tools in a deployed location. You’re trying to figure out how to put things back together with parts you don’t have, or you’re waiting on supply, or maybe trying to get it from a vendor that isn’t in the country where you are. You’ve got to figure out how to get the truck going. The mission doesn’t stop because that truck’s down.”
Each time they deployed, both vehicle maintainers saw firsthand the importance of their job to the warfighting effort.
“I believe our job is extremely important to the mission, because everything revolves around moving vehicles,” Burdick said. “If you want to do security around the base, you’re in an up-armored Humvee or (multi-role armored vehicle). If you’re doing convoys, you have trailers that are moving that need to be fixed. If you want to get cargo on the plane, you’re using a (Tunner) 60K loader and 10K forklift. If you want to move supplies around, you’re using pickup trucks. Nothing moves without a vehicle mechanic around. If your truck breaks down, you’re done. You can’t complete your mission if we don’t complete ours.”
One aspect of the career field Burdick likes best are the ways he can use the skills he’s learned, from technical school at Port Hueneme, Calif., to continuing training during his career, both on and off duty.
“It’s nice when you have a tool in your toolbox you can pull out to help people,” Burdick said. “Everybody needs a mechanic. Everybody needs a doctor. We’re doctors of mechanical medicine, as we like to put it.”