U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY -- All professionals share some common understandings. An important one is that cleaning tools and equipment is the first step in their proper care and maintenance. Another is that the best way to be sure your equipment works the next time you need it is to make sure it works before you put it away. The professional warfighters of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) are no different in this regard.
The mission of the 24th MEU(SOC), whether participating in training or in real world operations ashore, can be and usually is a tough and dirty job. When the MEU's vehicles and equipment have been worked hard to meet the demands of training, and they are encrusted with desert sand and ocean salt, the mission isn't complete until all vehicles and equipment are cleaned, inspected and repaired where necessary.
In the final phases of Iron Magic, a training exercise conducted by the 24th MEU(SOC) in U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility, Marines of MEU Service Support Group 24 conducted a wash down and maintenance period of vehicles and equipment prior to embarking them back aboard ships of the Nassau Amphibious Ready Group (ARG).
Staff Sgt. Edward G. Bowie from Bristol, NH., engineer detachment chief, Engineer Detachment, MSSG 24, 24th MEU (SOC), spoke briefly about what a wash down is and what it involves.
"A wash down is a cleaning of equipment before embarking to the ARG. The amount of detail that goes into a wash down is directed by higher headquarters depending on time constraints and future missions," said Bowie.
Embarking to the ARG is when all of the vehicles and equipment are taken aboard the ships of the Amphibious Ready Group. In addition to the need as professionals to keep the tools of their trade clean, it is also a bit like wiping your feet before coming inside. If the vehicles aren't washed before they are embarked then all of the dirt that was on them gets tracked into the ship and from there the dirt could be tracked into berthing, passageways and work spaces creating a much larger cleaning chore for Marines and Sailors aboard ship.
Bowie addressed one specific professional concern a wash down takes care of. "The significance of a wash down is very similar to why one would wash their own vehicle, and with the MEU being embarked aboard ship, with the salt water it is even more imperative that the wash down be conducted to ensure (that) corrosion can be kept to a minimum," said Bowie.
Bowie talked about the key personnel essential to the wash down and what their jobs were. "Capt. Bailey from the Command Element was responsible (for letting) all (Major Subordinate Elements) know when they were scheduled to be at the site, and from there my team of four Marines supervised the movement of vehicles and the methods of washing down the vehicles," he said.
"The key players in the wash down are the Marines that run the site. In this last evolution we started with seven pressure washers and were quickly reduced to five due to mechanical failure of the equipment. Shortly thereafter we had another break and successfully rebuilt one within minutes to enable us to have five pressure washers that still worked. The drivers and assistants that accompanied the vehicles were also instrumental in the execution of the mission. The care and respect they showed their equipment, ensuring they were doing a quick, but detailed job, is what really made this a successful evolution," Bowie said.
As far as what types of vehicles and equipment were subject to the wash down, "All wheeled vehicles, and usually tracked vehicles. This last site could not accommodate tracked vehicles, so they were washed down at the base camp. Along with the vehicle, if it is carrying or towing any cargo or trailers they will be cleaned as well," said Bowie.
Bowie gave credit to the parties that helped to make the wash down as successful as it was. "(The host nation's) help with allowing us to use their facilities and providing us water were definitely a great help in accomplishing our tasks at hand, but again without the Marines that worked at the site, this would (have) definitely been a failure. Their perseverance and dedication to making the site as effective as possible is what brought our goals to fruition. The host nation provided water and the use of their facilities. Maj. Hamed from the Logistical Support for the Base aided the MEU with numerous requests," Bowie concluded.
Cleaning gear was not the only aspect of maintenance addressed at the wash down, Marines also did inspections and corrective maintenance.
Chief Warrant Officer Chris W. Hedgcorth from Portsmouth, RI., maintenance officer, Maintenance Detachment, MEU Service Support Group 24, told of the maintenance issues addressed at the wash down.
"We did inspections. Throughout the MEU, Marines did inspections on their own gear. We did probably two hundred just with the MSSG's gear. The whole MEU did (Limited Technical Inspections) on their gear," said Hedgcorth. "The MEU (Commanding Officer's) guidance was that he wanted everything LTI'd. The MSSG inspected their (gear), the (Battalion Landing Team) inspected their (gear), and we did the intermediate maintenance on everything that doesn't 'fly' basically," said Hedgcorth.
The Limited Technical Inspection has additional benefits. "It gives them a chance to look at the gear they can't get to on ship," Hedgcorth added.
Hedgcorth pointed out that the items repaired at the wash down were not broken through misuse. "The stuff we repaired out there was due to training. The stuff the (Battalion Landing Team), and Command Element broke was all due to training and some of it due to equipment age," said Hedgcorth.
Hedgcorth spoke a bit about the Marines in his Platoon that performed the maintenance. "We've got a forty-seven-man platoon. We fix everything from telephones to tanks to computers. We have more than 25 (Military Occupational Specialties) in the platoon. Some of the (Military Occupational Specialties) I only have one of so it's not unlikely to see generator repairmen working on communications gear. I've known most of these guys since (Combined Arms Exercise) last year and I wouldn't trade any of them."
Ultimately, the wash down and maintenance period conducted after exercise Iron Magic helped ensure the MEU's overall readiness.