MUQDADIYAH, Iraq – What started out as a project to alleviate mechanics’ boredom between jobs has turned into a key way to enhance the combat capabilities of the fledgling Iraqi Army in northern Iraq.
Mechanics supporting A Battery, 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery, 4th Infantry Division, Task Force Band of Brothers, have used their downtime to restore both American and Russian-made vehicles for use by the Iraqi Army. The rebuilt vehicles were salvaged from a lot on Forward Operating Base Normandy called “The Bone Yard,” where many of the vehicles had been abandoned since the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988.
“We were bored,” said Sgt. Michael Mulalley, the maintenance shop foreman. “Not many people in the Army have really even used a 109A6 howitzer, let alone worked on them, since they have been out of the Army system for 20 to 30 years.
“We went across the street, grabbed one and decided to fix it.”
The American-made howitzers – basically artillery cannons mounted on a tank body – were used by the Iranians during the eight-year conflict. Many still had Iranian markings on them when they were found. Most were abandoned by the Iranians and captured by Iraqi forces.
Mulalley, who hails from St. Regis, Mont., said once his team of mechanics got the first vehicle running, there was an immediate demand for more. The units at FOB Normandy wanted the vehicles to better equip local Iraqi Army forces.
“Once we were shown how to start one, we tinkered around with a couple of them, and got three of them running,” Mulalley said. “By the time we were done, we had 13 of the 113s (a self-propelled Russian anti-aircraft tank) and three 577s (armored command post carriers) going.”
One of the most challenging parts of the task confronting mechanics was not having training manuals to assist them. These manuals provide operators and mechanics detailed schematics of equipment and written procedures for maintenance and repair.
“All of the work we did, we did looking at it from being a mechanic,” said Spc. Antonio Van Dyke, an Arlington, Texas, native who serves as a turret mechanic. “We said, ‘This goes here’ and ‘This needs to be done.'”
“The Bone Yard” at FOB Normandy is massive. With so many vehicles to choose from, not all can be fixed. The mechanics used a simple criterion for selecting vehicles to repair.
“We went through the bone yard and picked out the ones that needed the least work,” said Pfc. Derrick Parizek, a light-wheeled vehicle mechanic from Green Bay, Wisc. “We put some oil and anti-freeze in them, and, if they turned over, we fixed them.”
Both Van Dyke and Parizek said that mechanics didn’t have any parts for these vehicles in their supply system. They decided to salvage parts from other vehicles on the lot.
“Most everything we got for parts came from ‘The Bone Yard,'” Van Dyke said.
The thrifty mechanics then turned their eyes toward an even greater challenge. They found it in the form of the Russian-made 113s.
“We had never worked on anything like those before,” Mulalley said. “We had to have one of the Iraqis start one up for us.”
For doing such a great job, the mechanics were also cited by their commander during his change of command ceremony. Capt. Andrew A. Morrison praised their efforts in rebuilding the vehicles.
“It takes a different breed of animal to do the work these guys do and do it with a smile,” Morrison said. “Your performance in theatre has been extraordinary.
“Helping the Iraqi Army is a testimony to your hard work and helping make the IA a more capable force.”
Mulalley said the rebuilt vehicles could prove to be a lifesaver for Iraqi Army Soldiers on patrol. They are much more of an imposing force on northern Iraq’s often dangerous roadways.
“If they can keep up on these and take them on patrol, it will save them a lot,” Mulalley said. “If they go out and hit an IED with a 113, it will mess up the 113, but the worst they’re going to get is a headache.”
The mechanics’ task has shifted. More restorations may be coming in the near future, but the challenge now is to keep the newly rejuvenated vehicles up and running.
“We’re teaching the Iraqi Army to maintain its own vehicles,” Parizek said. “That way, when we do leave, they can maintain them themselves.
“We are mainly focusing on teaching them rather than doing the work ourselves now.”
These mechanics toiling in 100-degree temperatures see the big picture. They realize their efforts are helping the Iraqi Army assume a greater role in the battle against insurgents.