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New way to keep weapons in working order

FORT RILEY, Kan.—As they head to war in Iraq, the soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 13th Armor, carry along 1-ounce bottles of orange liquid that could save their lives.

They contain a synthetic lubricant that keeps pistols, rifles and machine guns working in the desert sand and dust, which can coat, clog and wear any mechanism.

The tank battalion, part of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, kept hearing reports of weapons malfunctioning in desert training. The problem, said battalion commander Lt. Col. Frank Sherman, is that the oil-based lubricant the Army usually uses seems to attract dust and sand in desert conditions. Sherman credited Staff Sgt. Julian Tobin for taking the initiative to solve the problem for their battalion.

Tobin tried to downplay his involvement, saying he was only following up on officers' good ideas for finding a more suitable lubricant. He searched the Internet and found a product called Militec-1, advertised as a "synthetic-based metal conditioner." Some other units already in Iraq have started using it, he said.

Although the synthetic lubricant is moist when applied, it dries as it bonds with metal, which prevents it from drawing as much dust and sand as the oil-based lubricant. The change, Tobin said, could determine whether a bullet casing fully ejects or whether a round properly engages in a firing mechanism.

More than half the approximately 500 soldiers in Sherman's tank unit work in support of the tanks. Sometimes they operate relatively far from the tanks in supply and maintenance convoys. They are logistics experts, mechanics and clerks, working without armored plating to shield them. They can't always depend on the tanks' main guns for protection. Their lives, Sherman said, could depend on whether their M16s fire dependably.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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