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'It Was Like Monster Garage in the Desert,' Airmen, Soldiers Team Up to Get Mission Done

Staff Sgt. John Gordinier

Senior Airman Danny Perry, 732nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, reflects on how a wheel was fabricated to fix a “Ditch Witch” here Feb. 7. Perry, along with Army motor pool, used innovation when the front tire ruptured on the machine and a spare tire couldn’t arrive soon enough. Perry is deployed from Langley Air Force Base, Va., and is a native of Chillicothe, Mo.,Senior Airman Elizabeth Rissmiller

If a car breaks down, most people take it to a mechanic or some may purchase a replacement part. For 20 Joint Expeditionary Tasking Airmen forward-deployed here, that option is not available when their equipment breaks down. They put their minds to work.

“We are isolated out here and there’s no Wal-Mart or parts store around,” said Senior Airman Danny Perry, 732nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron Construction Team 10 pavement and equipment technician, deployed from Langley Air Force Base, Va. “When our equipment breaks, we have to be inventive and at least come up with a temporary fix in order to get the mission done.”

The JET Airmen are here to build up a living area for the Soldiers assigned to the forward operating base, said Master Sgt. Jason Elftmann, 732nd ECES CT 10 superintendent and project manager, also deployed from Langley AFB. It has been a challenge getting parts and supplies to complete the mission, but the team always finds a way to prevail.

For example, the team’s “Ditch Witch” trencher popped a tire while digging trenches for electrical wiring and plumbing.

“We were digging a trench and something in the gravel sliced the sidewall of the tire,” Perry said. “We tried nine different ways to fix it. We tried spraying foam in it. We tried patching it, but nothing worked. We were running out of options.”

The team called the company in Perry, Okla., and ordered a new tire, but it was going to take a minimum of two weeks to arrive.

Without the trencher, the team would have to dig all the remaining trenches by shovel or use a backhoe, which would have been very labor-intensive and extremely slow.

“Some of the Soldiers here are living in non-powered tents and are counting on us to get the job done fast and efficiently,” Perry added.

So did the team call it quits? No, they got creative and overcame the challenge.

Perry, a Kansas City, Mo., native, walked over to the Army motor pool to see if they could assist.

“It was like ‘Monster Garage’ in the desert,” he said. “Working together with the motor pool, we fabricated a new wheel. We cut about a four-inch-thick circular piece off of an old air compressor tank for a wheel. Then, the motor pool cut some spare diamond plate and welded it along the side of the wheel. The axle is an old part from a fork lift.

“It’s not pretty, but it works,” Perry added.

“We find ways to keep the job going,” Elftmann said. “Each and every time we hit a slump, we keep moving. There is no such thing as ‘No’ or ‘I can’t do it.’ We find a way to work around it as best as we can and as safely as we can in order to press on and complete our mission.

“We will get a new wheel shortly, but until then, we’ll keep rolling with ‘Mad Max’ as we like to call it now,” he concluded.

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