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NEWS | April 30, 2010

After IED hit, 'only thing we couldn't fix was the air conditioning'

By Sgt. John Young Vermont National Guard

GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan - The call came in early one morning for the mechanics of Troop B, 1-172nd Calvary Squadron, 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain) of the Vermont National Guard.

One of their Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles had hit an Improvised Explosive Device. Plans were immediately underway to repair and order parts even before the dead-lined vehicle returned here to Forward Operating Base Vulcan.

Nobody really knew how bad the MRAP was but the mechanics assigned to the Vermont-based National Guard unit were preparing for a long night. Those on the scene reported that the front of the MRAP had taken the brunt of the blast and, fortunately, no one had suffered any serious injuries. The MRAP had done its job of sacrificing itself to save those inside by absorbing the blast and redirecting the impact away from its occupants.

From the initial report, the mechanics could already tell that the massive front axle had to be replaced, which would be no small feat in this remote area of Ghazni, Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Robert Green was one of the first to inspect the disabled MRAP when it made its way back to FOB Vulcan. Green, a fleet manager for the city of Burlington, Vermont, is well aware of some of the challenges of working on a big vehicle. An MRAP, however, is another story.

"We met the wrecker at the gate at about midnight and directed them to put it up on jack stands in the maintenance area," said Green. "We then did a quick assessment and found out that we needed a new fender, a new axle and a new spring. We determined that we could definitely fix it here. Some of the parts we had here and we started to replace them."

Some of the parts, most notably the front axle were not located on FOB Vulcan and given the importance of the MRAP to the unit's missions, time was of the essence.

"We learned that the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Ghazni had [an axle], so we made arrangements to borrow that one for a few days," said Green. "That night, we picked it up from the PRT and started to get the axle set. We finished up tightening the u-bolts and putting the tires back on and by lunch time the next day it was driving. Just the fine tuning needed to be done, but it was relatively quick when we got the parts."

Given the size of the vehicle and the lack of specialized tools, such a task would normally seem insurmountable.

But Green's experience with big rigs helped him through the job and pass on knowledge to the other Soldiers.

"Seeing that I do this for a living, I knew it was going to be relatively easy," he said. "I knew it was a nuts and bolts type thing and as soon as I saw it I knew it was not going to be a challenge for the team. Everyone on the team had a part whether it was putting on a fender or replacing a spring and axle and a lot of the newer guys installed most of the newer parts under the supervision of a few of us.

"So if this happens again, they may not be experts, but they will know what to do. We did all of this with general mechanics tools and what tools were on the MRAP. But I knew we had the tools to fix this. I mean, it would have been nice to have the right specialized tools like an impact wrench but we got it done. The only thing we couldn't fix in the vehicle was the air-conditioning."

One of the youngest Soldiers on the team was also there when the disabled MRAP came in the gate. Not having the experience of working on something this big with this type of damage before, he was looking forward to learning a few things, said Pvt. Christopher James Murray, a full-time carpenter when he is not working as a mechanic.

"We got it in and removed the damaged parts and put it up on jack stands," he said. "It was my first time changing [an axel] so I did learn something. [The damage] could have been worse but these things are built like a tank. There is a lot to learn but I know the next one will go easier."