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Air Force maintainers help improve future for Afghans

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Adam Rains
  • Gardez Provincial Reconstruction Team
For the last year, a trio of Airmen have helped ensure success for a mission bringing self-governance, security and economic growth to the people of Afghanistan's Paktya and Logar provinces. 

The efforts of vehicle maintainers Tech. Sgt. Kendrick Ouzts, Staff Sgt. Andrew Hawley and Staff Sgt. Russell Achee enabled members of the Gardez Provincial Reconstruction Team to safely cross the provinces' rough terrain as it worked to improve life for local villagers. 

"The vehicle maintenance shop keeps the PRT road worthy," said Air Force Capt. Mark Stevens, the PRT's civil engineer. He added that in addition to constantly repairing or replacing parts worn out by rough terrain, the maintainers are directly involved with every mission that leaves the base. "When we have a radiator blow or a wheel fall off, they are the ones we can count on to get us out of harm's way. When it absolutely has to get running now, the vehicle maintainers are always there to keep us moving," Capt. Stevens said. 

The team members have had their work cut out for them. Normally the maintenance mission -- which the Airmen are performing "in lieu of" Soldiers -- requires a crew of nine. The three members are responsible for a fleet of 26 Humvees, one Light Medium Tactical Vehicle and a Joint Explosive Ordnance Disposal Vehicle.  The vehicles are used in a variety of missions that average between four to five convoys each day. 

"When I first hit the ground I had to come to terms with the fact that the trucks
were taking a beating not only from the terrain but from the simple fact that they were carrying a lot of weight," said Sergeant Ouzts, the team's noncommissioned officer in charge.  He's deployed from the 97th Air Mobility Wing at Altus Air Force Base, Okla.
Despite his initial concerns, Sergeant Ouzts and his team rose to the challenge, far surpassing the expectations of the PRT's leadership. 

"Sergeant Ouzts is the go-to guy in all areas of upkeep and maintenance," said Master Sgt. Ed Chamberlin, the PRT's Services Superintendent, noting that Sergeant Ouzts spearheaded the effort to quickly up-armor more than 80 Humvees here. "His leadership skills ensure that the PRT mechanics keep the vehicles mission capable." 

The logistical elements of the job are managed by Sergeant Hawley, deployed from the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. In addition to administering the system that tracks maintenance actions, he also created an innovative program to efficiently process, stock and account for nearly $500,000 worth of parts at four different operating locations. 

Rounding out the team is Sergeant Achee, deployed from the 31st Fighter Wing at Camp Darby, Italy. His skills at maintenance in the field have proven invaluable, said Sergeant Chamberlin, who added that Sergeant Achee provided critical support not only to the PRT, but also to U.S. and Afghan forces in the midst of combat operations. 

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Wood, of the PRT's Civil Affairs Team, noted that the team's efforts were instrumental to more than $10.4 million of PRT reconstruction efforts and said he was glad to have worked beside the mechanics. 

"These guys have done some amazing things together. They have never complained about the amount of time they are asked to work. They just get the job done," Sergeant Wood said.  "When you are outside the wire, the enemy is not concerned about the color of your name tapes or what is your primary job. These Airmen know that and have worked hard to perfect their combat skills while remaining committed to their role as the maintainers of our vehicle fleet. I can honestly say I am proud to have served with them."