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Vehicle MX Airmen keep the mission rolling

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Fewer groups have as much impact on the mission at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, as sweaty, greasy mechanics assigned to the 532nd Expeditionary Operation Support Squadron Vehicle Maintenance Element, who fix the cargo loaders, forklifts and tactical vehicles used by others to support base security and flight line operations.

When some people think of the Air Force, they imagine pilots and planes. They picture a fighter jet screaming over head dropping bombs on the bad guy. They have visions of a cargo plane delivering supplies during humanitarian relief efforts.

What they don’t think about is the airmen working diligently behind the scenes to support the aircraft and air crew accomplishing these important operations, but it is these airmen who are truly making the difference.

“They are essential to us completing our mission,” said Capt. Jared Newman, 532nd EOSS Air Mobility Flight commander. “Without vehicle maintenance, our operations would come to a complete stop. We wouldn’t be able to download planes and move cargo.”

The vehicle maintenance element is responsible for maintaining a 68 vehicle fleet worth more than $18 million. The element’s top priority is material handling equipment, which they keep well above a 90 percent service rate.

“We don’t have the most glorious job but what we do is important,” said Staff Sgt. Chris Stamm, vehicle maintenance element mechanic and Canton, Ohio, native. “If we didn’t do our job, cargo wouldn’t get moved and cops would have to do foot patrols.”

The mechanics are ready to handle any issue that comes into their shop.

“We work on everything from bumper to bumper,” said Master Sgt. Brian Huffman, vehicle maintenance element superintendent and Hughesville, Pa., native. “There is nothing we won’t do; there is nothing we aren’t capable of repairing.”

The element has done everything from changing out an engine on a security forces’ patrol vehicle to changing the oil on a forklift.

“Anything that breaks, we will fix it,” said Staff Sgt. Todd Hickman, vehicle maintenance element mechanic and Auburndale, Fla., native. “We do whatever we can to keep the vehicles serviceable and mission ready.”

With every problem they fix, another comes up.

“There is always something,” said Stamm, who is deployed from Ramstein Air Base, Germany. “Even if we fixed everything, we still have scheduled maintenance.”

Solving a problem before it becomes unsolvable is the focal point for the mechanics.

“We try to focus on preventative maintenance,” said Huffman, who is deployed from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., “We want to catch things before they break and cause a mission stoppage.”

The four-man shop is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“The environment puts wear and tear on the vehicles,” said Senior Airman Greg Weiss, vehicle maintenance element mechanic and Lady Lake, Fla., native. “They weren’t made for the harsh conditions in Iraq. That’s why it is important we are here to fix things.”

With as essential as some of the vehicles are to the mission, the team tries to keep service time down to a minimum.

“My mechanics work hard and do anything to keep a vehicle on the road, most of the time within 24 hours,” Sergeant Huffman said. “Minus a catastrophic failure, we’ll have it back out the same day.”

When the team is slowed down, it is out of their control.

“Our biggest challenge is getting parts in,” said Weiss, who is deployed from Eglin AFB, Fla. “Once we order them it can take up to two weeks before they arrive.”

But the airmen get resourceful and improvise to keep the mission going as smoothly as possible.

“We have a good group here,” said Hickman, who is deployed from Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C. “We all have different skills sets and together we always figure it out.”

The team has used their inventiveness to build various tools including a wrench for a fuel injection pump or starter. They are also building an engine mount with scrap materials.

“We find ways to get our job done,” Stamm said. “Sometimes that means improvising and making a tool we don’t have.”

Working together is what makes this team so successful.

“I’m very proud of my guys,” Huffman said. “They always step up as a team and get us out of any situation. Their ideas are nothing short of amazing.”

Article by Staff Sgt. Michael Longoria, U.S. Air Forces Central, Baghdad Media Outreach Team