This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri, October 31st 2018. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
When I was 16 my friend Doug Rector had an old straight six Chevrolet with a bad motor. Doug got another motor from Vic Butlers’ junk yard and got the motor to my house. One evening after school we threw a chain over the front door beam of Dads’ Quonset shed, pulled the old motor, and installed the good one and Doug drove away before morning. There wasn’t anything we couldn’t do to or with a car, and we weren’t exceptions. Some boys built hot rods, and some built customs. The popular term was “shad tree mechanic”, because often the work was done under a big tree with a limb large enough to support a car engine. Often the knowledge was gained by taking it apart to see how it worked. We learned how to adjust valves and set points by how the engine sounded, but times have changed. Aside from a few diesel pickup addicts’ young people now are not as interested in “building their own” ride. Now a Certified Automotive Technician must not only know the basic functions of engines, transmissions and differentials but must also understand how the sometimes hundreds of sensors and microchips, in a vehicle, function in relation to each other into the main computer of the vehicle.
I enlisted in the Army 15 years after the end of World War II, and at that time the Army seemed to have forgotten the value of mechanics, and Vietnam didn’t change things much. Mechanics were guys in the motor pool who kept the vehicle running. It was often a mundane job with a lot of preventive maintenance (busy work) and not much excitement. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan changed things. The vehicles were more complicated and they were essential, they had to be kept running.
In November 2007 the Army News Service published an article from Forward Operating Base Sharana, Afghanistan. The mechanics had been working since 4:00 AM, just got to sleep and at 10:00 PM were awakened to go back to their shop. A unit had brought in a Hummv with the front drive not working. In the rough Afghanistan terrain four wheel drive is essential, and this vehicle had to be back on the road by morning. The front differential had to be replaced, a good four to five hour job. Using parts from other damaged vehicles, it was ready to roll before daylight. Private First Class Carson Beaver said; “This is a very important job, keeping units coming through here on their feet. When they come to us needing something fixed, they know were reliable and they’ll be able to continue on their mission.”
The Army has 14 different mechanic MOS’s (Military Occupational Specialties). Tank Mechanic, Stryker Vehicle Mechanic, Bradley Vehicle Mechanic, and Artillery Mechanic are a few, but to become an automobile mechanic the MOS is 91B Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic.
A few years ago the Army started trying to bring all training and jobs that have similar civilian jobs up to the civilian standard and help the soldier get civilian credentials for that occupation. Ten years ago the comments from Army mechanics were something like; The only thing you learn in AIT (Advanced Individual Training) is how to read Technical Manuals, or You don’t learn anything in AIT, you learn it all at your unit. It was around that time the US Army Ordnance Corps began discussing it’s training of Army Mechanics. Wheeled Vehicle Mechanics were being trained in four different posts scattered around the country, and military vehicles and civilian automobiles took a giant leap forward in technology. A new training facility and barracks was constructed and all training consolidated at the Army Ordnance Center at Fort Lee, Virginia (Petersburg). The curriculum for the 91B course was completely changed, and during the current 13 week AIT there is classroom/computer work plus plenty of “lab” work in a giant, spotless maintenance facility where the students work on everything from big diesels to small gasoline engines, plus all learn and get hands on work on all vehicle systems.
To sit for the test to become an ASE (National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence) Certified Automotive Technician, two years of tech school plus two years of experience is required. An Army 91B who has completed the 13 week AIT and has two years performance as a 91B may sit for the test. However, comments from former soldiers indicate that a lot of study is required to pass the test.
Comments from 91B’s in the Army now are generally positive. They get to turn a lot of wrenches and are generally satisfied with their jobs, although there are sometimes long hours, especially on deployments. The guys who take wreckers and recovery vehicles out and pick up broken or damaged vehicles have an additional skill identified (ASI) on their MOS of H8, which is an extra two week course. All who commented highly recommended that any 91B take that course whenever they can. Most Army units now have “Mechanic of the Quarter” competitions, and some have unit against unit mechanic competitions.
Every Army Brigade Combat Team has a Brigade Support Battalion (BSB). One company in that battalion is a Maintenance Company, there is also a Supply Company and a Medical Company, and also in that battalion are Forward Support Companies, attached to each combat battalion, which have a large Maintenance Platoon and a Recovery Section. I always recommend that anyone considering the Army get the airborne option in their contract, if possible. The more elite the unit, the higher the morale in that unit. The 82nd Airborne Division has three Brigade Combat Teams, each has a Brigade Support Battalion. One in particular has captured my fascination.
The 407th BSB is part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team. The 2nd Brigade is the Falcon Brigade, built around the 325th Infantry, whose mascot is the Falcon. The 1st Battalion 325th is the Red Falcons, the 2nd the White Falcons, and the 1st Squadron 73rd Cavalry the Blue Falcons. But the 407th BSB, whose motto is “Supply is Strength”, call themselves “The Golden Griffins”. A “Griffin” is a mythical character with the body of a Lion and the head and wings of an Eagle. The Golden Griffins take on their roll of support with a gusto not seen is most support units. Company B is the Maintenance Company, the mechanics, they call themselves the “Weasels”.
The men and women of the Golden Griffins and the Weasels are paratroopers, they jump out of airplanes at least once every three months, usually more often. Weekdays, if not in the field or deployed, they start their day at 6:30 AM with an hour of good airborne physical training (PT) and a good long run. They take a PT test for record at least once a year, they also fire their rifles for qualification and go through the gas chamber annually. But primarily the Weasels are mechanics, who are very proud of keeping everything rolling, and they are family.
Weasel family gathering
Weasels at work