TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. - The Light Armored Vehicle is an eight-wheeled armored transport used by light armored reconnaissance units. They are versatile assets in combat and keeping them in the fight requires experience and ingenuity from their mechanics. LAV mechanics’ time in the field and experience teaches them how to keep them operating. They can spot problems in LAVs from dozens of yards away, just by the color of the smoke coming from the exhaust or the sound and repetition of the weapon systems firing.
The mechanics of 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance are responsible for maintenance and upkeep of all their LAVs, from the engineering aspects to the optics and weapons systems. These complex machines are used to their fullest capabilities and keeping them running requires constant up-keep.
“Routine maintenance in the LAV world is a hard thing to say,” said Sgt. Brandon McKinley, assistant maintenance chief, 3rd LAR. “It’s always something different. Just this week we’ve had a turbo go down, we’ve had two guns go down for multiple problems, a feeder go down, a receiver go down and a flat tire or two. It all kind of rotates. Everyone will all of a sudden focus on one thing and another problem comes up, so it’s a rolling cycle.”
Gunnery Sgt. Charles Dozier, maintenance chief, Company A, 3rd LAR, has also served as the senior instructor for the LAV mechanics school in Maryland. He has seen the progress Marines make from the time of their arrival to the school house to making repairs in the field.
“Some of the students would come in with little or no mechanical knowledge,” Dozier said. “They wouldn’t know the difference between a Philips screwdriver and a flat-head screwdriver. It is basically the crawl, walk then run method.”
The more time they spend in the field with the LAVs the better they get to know them. Each noise and movement has its purpose and when something is out of place it’s apparent.
“After a while, you listen to the gun and you can hear if something is going mechanically wrong,” Dozier said. “Just by doing it for a long time you get a feel of what the LAV is saying to you without actually looking at it. We’ve got keen senses. We know what sounds right and we know what sounds wrong.”
During the units’ Table 6 qualifications at Range 500 April 12, Dozier and McKinley knew there was something wrong with an LAV they saw firing on the line before it was even brought to them.
The crank to the ballistic cover that protects LAV’s optic glass had broken and the cover had fallen closed on the sights. The problem, although small in comparison to other potential mechanical malfunctions, prevented the crewmen from being able to see.
McKinley hopped into the LAV to examine the problem. After a few minutes and with the use of 550-Cord, the LAV was cleared to return to training.
Although this was only a temporary solution, it allowed the LAV to finish its qualification while the mechanics ordered the correct parts to permanently resolve the issue when they return to mainside.
“We don’t have our big work benches or the parts readily available but we manage pretty well,” McKinley said.
Light Armored Vehicle mechanics are limited in their resources in the field and on deployments. They make do with what they have in their Light Armored Vehicle Recovery and Light Armored Vehicle Logistics platforms. These vehicles carry the only parts and tools available to the mechanics, such as drills and power packs, and are able to tow any LAV deemed beyond repair outside the wire.
The Marines with 3rd LAR make do with what they have and do so constantly to keep up with mission requirements.
“The other night we were up until one and reveille was at seven,” McKinley said. “It makes it a long 18-hour-day when you’re up working constantly.”
The constant wear-and-tear of the vehicles is increased as they push through the unforgiving desert environment. The sands, winds, and terrain create more problems, keeping the mechanics busy and versatile in the field. This is an important trait to have when dealing with such a similar environment during combat operations in Afghanistan.
“Out in the field, we have more conditions to deal with. We have to be prepared to support all 26 vehicles with minimal amounts of support,” Dozier said. “We do a lot of improvisational fixes to make sure the vehicles can safely conduct their mission. There are a lot less resources out here. We don’t have the parts supply that we do when we’re in garrison. Out in the field environment my mechanics have to think on their feet.”
3rd LAR’s mechanics stay flexible in the way they think and work as problems arise and keep a strong work ethic in order to meet the mission demands of the battalion.
“We work 24 hours a day, seven days a week if need be,” Dozier said. “It doesn’t matter what time of the day or night it is, we always have to be ready to support the mission.”
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