While Iowa National Guard soldiers have been sent all over the world on active duty — a group of 180 North Carolina guardmembers are on active duty right here in Iowa. The North Carolinians arrived in June for a tour at the National Maintenance Training Facility at Camp Dodge in Johnston.
Captain James Sasser is their spokesman and says they’re working up to 12 hour days to repair the vehicles used by the National Guard and Reserve units. He says the vehicles can be in very bad shape, but the goal is to return them to service in 90 days. He says in most cases the vehicles go right back overseas. Sergeant John Smith works in the maintenance garage and says it’s important work. He says, “If we don’t have all this equipment up and running, it kind of leaves us in a vulnerable state if we need to use it elsewhere. The faster we get it up, the faster we can get our forces back up. If you don’t have these vehicles, you can get troops to the front lines, you can’t get supplies to the front lines.
Getting the equipment back to the front doesn’t always mean sending it overseas — as Hurricanes Rita and Katrina proved. Sergeant Howard Clark says it’s just as important for the National Guard to have equipment to deal with natural disasters. He says being from the eastern seaboard he’s familiar with hurricanes and says he’s heard about the tornadoes here in Iowa. Either way, he says the Guard needs it’s vehicles.
Sergeant Walter Dawson says the vehicles that come in from Iraq have a variety of problems. He says, “You’ve got sand and dust and heat and it mixes with oil and grease and causes wear and tear on the vehicle.” Sergeant Smith works on tractor trailers that haul cargo and troops and says you’re more likely to see damage from everyday use than from combat. He says, “A lot of the stuff coming in has oil leaks, transmission leaks, parts that need to be replaced, fuel injector pumps right down to the tires.” He says they did have one come in that had a bullet in the tire, so they see a little of everything.
The North Carolina unit was to be deployed for a six-month tour, but they’ve been told that will most likely be extend to a year because of the amount of battered equipment returning from the Middle East. Sergeant Clark says the long hours of hard work are a small sacrifice compared to what the soldiers overseas are doing. He says, “They’re sacrificing a lot. I mean, you know, even being here we’re sacrificing, like I say, we’re away from our families, and they’re even further away. And they don’t have the luxuries we have. You know, I’m sleeping in a bed every night, not on a cot. I get three hot meals. I can go out and get in my car and go downtown. It’s a good thing they’re doing.” The National Guard estimates there are 40 to 60-thousand pieces of equipment that need to be repaired.