Spc. Kevin Payne, a welder with B Company, 3rd Brigade Support Battalion, 25th Infantry Division, welds together bars of metal to make a training ramp for the military police's K9 dogs at the mechanics shop on Forward Operating Base Warrior, near Kirkuk, Iraq.
5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
KIRKUK, Iraq – Blue light flares, sparks rain down, and metal melts into metal. Little bit by little bit, the skeleton of a training ramp emerges from random bars of iron by the efforts of the welder.
Invention is the name of the game for the Company B, 325th Brigade Support Battalion Soldiers and their civilian counterparts with Lear-Siegler Services Inc. who work in the maintenance shop on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Warrior.
“My favorite question I like to get from customers is ‘can you do this?’ It’s not can we do it, it’s do you have the time for us to do it,” said Sgt. Damon Barnett, the shop foreman. “We do things that you can’t order or purchase offline, and most don’t exist until we make them. We design things that, until you come in and ask us, you would never know could be made.”
Like every other maintenance shop, the Soldiers perform vehicle maintenance, repair broken parts, and conduct recovery of vehicles that have flat tires, are broken down, or are damaged by IEDs.
However, there is something special about this particular shop. The Soldiers’ attention to detail, ingenious remedies to complex problems, selection of equipment and original designs result in a shop that has earned them a good name throughout the country.
This mechanic shop features a machine shop, a one-of-its-kind in theater, known as the “blue room” because of the color of the building. Within these colorful walls reside a drill press, a mill and a lathe, giving these Soldiers an edge when it comes to fabrication and repair. It’s a dynamic environment where new projects challenge the ingenuity and creativity of the mechanics, welders and machinists.
“The design process for a project is design by committee, where everybody has a little input,” said Chief Warrant Officer Timothy Cox, the officer in charge of the shop. “We start from scratch, standing in a circle around a table with our soapstone, and we’ll just do a simple stick-figure drawing on the table and go from there.”
It is these creations, born from humble beginnings, which have earned the shop a reputation that draws in customers from as far south as Baghdad.
The crew has designed a guard shelter for the Air Force out of a connex featuring ballistic armor and windows, gates that can be hit with forklifts and still operate, ballistic windows for gun turrets, and a multitude of other projects.
One project currently under way is a ramp with walls and jumps that will be used by the military police to train their K9 working dogs.
“There’s really no other shop in the area that can do what this one can do,” Barnett said. “When the machinists and welders get together and do a job, you’re not going to see any other shop put out that kind of product. It could be something small, but the level of complexity to it is something that you’re only going to get here.
“We’ve got more skills, better designs, and we’re just that good,” Barnett concluded.
Greater skills and designs is a bold claim to make, and seemingly arrogant. However, it is one that is reinforced with every satisfied customer who leaves their shop with their expectations not only met but exceeded.
“Soldiers ask us ‘hey, can you just make this one little thing for us?’ And when we make it and put their thoughts into practical application, they’re just so thankful for it,” Cox said.
“Ultimately, the projects where the customers got something they requested and it came out a whole lot better than they thought it would, are the most satisfying,” Cox added.
Such is the boots to be filled by the next unit. With nine months in country, and redeployment coming up on the horizon, Cox is shifting his attention away from establishing the shop to getting things ready for the next unit.
“In the last few months, I’m trying to get the new unit set up to replace us. Our focus now is to leave them as prepared as they need to be to perform their mission,” Cox said. “The guy I replaced left us with nothing, and I’m not going to do that to the next unit. I’ve ordered everything the incoming unit is going to need to do this mission, and I’m hoping to have that in place when they get here,” Cox added.
Until they do, however, the Soldiers at this particular maintenance shop plan to stay busy. Each day brings in a new challenge, a new idea, and another opportunity to not only meet the standard, but to do more than the imaginable.