CAMP VIRGINIA, Kuwait -- In a large warehouse outside of Kuwait City civilian contractors from more than 25 countries around the world work in two, 12-hour shifts seven days a week.
They are working around the clock in temperatures reaching 120 degrees to ensure U.S. Marines are protected from improvised explosive devices and small-arms fire during convoy operations by installing new panels, dubbed up-armor, to the gunner's turret, undercarriage and sides of their vehicles.
Beginning July 16, more than 60 Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement seven-ton trucks and humvees from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been fitted with the new armor plates.
"Since February we have installed more than 5,000 kits on Marine Corps vehicles," said Chief Warrant Office 2 Eric Gilmer, who hails from Columbus, Ohio, and is a project team leader from Logistics Command, Marine Corps Base Albany, Ga. "The guys in my shop call this 'Operation Armor All.'"
According to Gilmer, the up-armor project began in February when Marine commanders wanted 100 percent side protection on their vehicles. Headquarters Marine Corps sent a request to Logistics Command to come up with a design for the new armor.
Within 28 days of the request, the new up-armor had been prototyped, tested, approved and installed on vehicles headed to Iraq from the I Marine Expeditionary Force.
After being installed, the new up-armored panels and gunner's shield offer the Marines in the vehicle 360 degrees of protection.
"This stuff really works," said Gilmer. "I have gotten a few e-mails from different Marines and they all said it works great. I have also seen photos, and in every instance no one has died - a few have been hurt, but no deaths."
Even the vehicle operators feel safer just having the armor on there.
"It is comforting to know that most anything can't get through it," said Lance Cpl. Jason Williman, 22, a Los Angeles native and motor vehicle operator from 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines. "Now we don't have to use so many sandbags and it feels a lot safer."
Pfc. Ryan Norstrom, 20, a Greenwich, Conn., native and motor vehicle operator from 1/2 agrees. "The new armor makes it pretty hot in there, but you definitely feel more protected, so I think it is a fair tradeoff."
"I would rather feel safe than comfortable," added Williman. " I have a wife to go home to."
The Marines also agreed they felt more protected from improvised explosive devices and heavy machine gun rounds.
"The survival rate with this armor is tremendous," said Lt. Col. Vincent Coglianese, 44, a Spring Lake, N.J., native and commanding officer of MEU Service Support Group 24. "I know the Marines feel more confident with it on there."
Armed with newfound confidence, the Marines of the 24th MEU will soon put their enhanced armored vehicles to the test as they move from Kuwait to Iraq.