LIMASSOL, Cyprus -- To Americans, cars are like a religion. Masses of furrowed brows brave unrelenting summer heat and molten blacktop surfaces in the almighty pursuit of a spotless, functioning vehicle. They’ll fall to their knees to clean a hard-to-reach area or change a tire as they pray to the car gods to spare them a trip to the local mechanic for a costly exorcism.
Whether it’s the family minivan, your neighbor’s fast and furious import, or Gunny’s truck, cleanliness is next to godliness. But Americans don’t expect to roll over improvised explosive devices on their way to the office. They won’t take small-arms fire on their way to school, and their station wagon isn’t teeming with people they’re escorting to safety.
For those who do expect the unexpected, namely the Marines and Sailors of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), their vehicles are extended a deeper level of faith than even the most devoted car enthusiast could understand. And, during a port visit in Limassol, Cyprus, MEU Marines sailing with the USS Iwo Jima performed an extensive vehicle wash-down and maintenance operation August 1.
“The purpose of the operation is to give the vehicles an all-in-one wash down and maintenance stand-down,” explained 1st Lt. Arleigh Lacefield, the wash-down operation officer-in-charge. “Once we get all the vehicles washed, we’ll perform preventative maintenance and inspections.”
The quick extraction of the MEU from a training operation in the Jordanian desert to immediately support the authorized departure of American citizens from Lebanon meant that the vast array of tactical vehicles did not receive their standard post-exercise cleaning and repairs. The hasty wash-down before the approximately 50 vehicles were loaded onto the ship prevented them from operating at their peak efficiency, said Lacefield, a native of Virginia Beach, Va.
“After the rough wash, we needed a more detailed look to make sure any dirt and grime is rinsed away,” said Lacefield. “After it’s clean, the mechanics can see more and make sure the vehicle is working properly.”
Another concern, according to Cpl. Sven Mozdiez, a crisis action platoon vehicle commander from Boston, is the environmental and agricultural issues that arise when transporting vehicles between different countries. He said that introducing foreign bacteria carried in dirt to another country is the same as “putting a salt-water boat in a pond.”
“There’s also the rust factor,” added Mozdiez. “The vehicles spend about 95 percent of the deployment in a salt-air environment, and it really helps out the situation to hit them with fresh water.”
During the operation, many of the Marines slipped into the familiar role of washing their vehicle, just as they would if they were home in their driveway. And, if nothing else, it allowed Marines and Sailors a break from life at sea, said Lance Cpl. Joshua Conger, a Meteorology and Oceanography observer and native of Jonesboro, Ark.
“It’s good to be able to get off the ship and enjoy the weather,” Conger said.
And, like many Americans back home in their driveways, vehicle upkeep has become a pseudo-religion for Marines aboard the Iwo Jima. Just as a rifleman will clean and re-clean his M-16, the constant cleaning and preventative maintenance on the MEU’s vehicles ensures that when the time comes, they’ll be able to answer the call to duty and continue to deliver Marines and those they protect from evil.
The 24th MEU is composed of its Command Element; Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced); and MEU Service Support Group 24.