298th Support Maint. Co. hammers away HET mission

By 1st Lt. Avery W. Evans
298th Support Maintenance Company
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — The 298th Support Maintenance Company, 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) out of Altoona, Pa., has been tasked with the mission to perform five-year maintenance on all M1000 Heavy Equipment Transport systems at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

The HET carries payloads up to 70 tons, primarily the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank. HETs are also used to transport other large military equipment like forklifts and various tracked vehicles.

Conducting five-year maintenance on a HET can be a long and arduous process. The training manual projects that it takes 28 days to complete a five-year service. The process includes replacing many parts of the equipment. These parts are not easily removed and the mechanics have found that a large amount of the parts have not been properly maintained since they left the assembly line, said Staff Sgt. Wenick Gordon, a heavy duty mechanic with the 298th SMC and a New York City native. 

“Due to the lack of (operator level) maintenance, which is a weekly greasing of the parts and joints to the trailers, the mission is getting prolonged,” Gordon said. “The parts have fused together from lack of greasing, sitting in extreme heat, and sand accumulation.”

Maintenance conducted on the trailers consists of blow torch work and manpower, including swinging a 12-pound sledgehammer., said Staff Sgt. Paul Howard Bloom, a heavy duty mechanic with the 298th SMC and a Curwensville, Pa., native.

The HET mission mechanics start their day at 5:30 a.m. with physical fitness training and report to work by 8 a.m., — hammering away at the accomplishment of their mission.

Bloom said he enjoys being a mechanic, despite the physical requirements of the job.

“I think it’s a good mission and very labor intensive,” he said.

Swinging the sledgehammer is the most physically taxing portion of the job. The HET mechanics swing the hammer for six to seven hours, six days per week. Many say they feel like a modern-day John Henry, the tall-tale legend who raced and won against a steamed-powered hammer.

Despite the difficulties and hard work, the mission has been getting accomplished.

“There are five trailers that we have completed since we have arrived here in April,” said Sgt. Carl Burner, a mechanic with the 298th SMC and a Baltimore native.

Once the five-year maintenance is complete, a final inspection is done. Once all of the HETs have been repaired and serviced, they will be redistributed throughout theater.