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Mechanics play crucial role in keeping U.S. troops rolling

NORTHERN KUWAIT—They can switch out a tank engine in less than an hour and stop a hydraulic leak in five minutes.

"It's not a very glorious job. A lot of their work goes unseen while people are sleeping. But without them, we're not going to last very long," said Capt. Jason Pape, the Bravo Company commander with 1st Battalion, 13th Armor, from Fort Riley, Kan.

Pape is talking about the 10-member team of mechanics who keep the company's 14 tanks and eight support vehicles rolling.

The unit is making final preparations to move north, probably to Baghdad, Iraq. Every vehicle must be ready.

One morning, one of the mechanics, Sgt. James Marsh, was troubleshooting a strange sound that came from an M1-A1 tank. Standing on the tank's back deck, Marsh told the driver to start the turbine engine. As the engine revved, it belched twice. Marsh, a 31-year-old from Livingston, Mont., could not figure out the problem.

Later that day, Staff Sgt. Jody Huskey, noted that the tank also belched black smoke. "I got a feeling we're going to end up losing that engine," said Huskey, the 28-year-old mechanics team chief.

It is an isolated problem. For the most part, the tanks the unit drew from a yard at Camp Doha are newer and better maintained than the tanks at Fort Riley.

It was not clear whether the problem tank will get a new engine. But if an engine becomes available, the mechanics could install it in less than an hour.

Huskey, whose name fits his build, understands the frustration a tank crew feels when its tank malfunctions. "That tank, that's their entire world," he said in his Houston twang.

One morning, one of Huskey's crew, Sgt. Mark Ebersole, fixed a hydraulic leak that had sprayed a tank driver. The fluid is the crew's lifeblood, helping raise and lower the 120 mm main gun.

Later, Ebersole, 33, of Toledo, Ohio, sat on a cot, running a metal file through a part from a tank ammunition door. It was keeping the ammunition door from sliding properly. Without the repair, the tank crew could not fire the weapon and the tank loader could get his hands or fingers severed.

Huskey said his team does not worry about getting the limelight that tank crews enjoy. "We get our warm and fuzzy when these guys are able to go out and do their job."


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