December 13, 2007

Memphis Man Fixing Military Vehicles 6,600 Miles From Home

Brian Brush is working for Lear Siegler Services, Inc., repairing U.S. marine vehicles in Iraq.

For most folks that commute to work, the long drive typically is a negative. Fortunately for Memphis resident Brian Brush, he decided not to travel back and forth to work this year. That decision was made pretty easy by the fact he is working more than 6,600 miles from home in Iraq.

Brush was back in Memphis over Thanksgiving on a two-week vacation from his position as a mechanic for Lear Siegler Services, Inc.

The former city alderman departed from Memphis in early may to attend 10 days of training and initiation in Houston, TX.

On May 21st he left the United States for Iraq and a one-year commitment to work for the military contractor. As part of the corporation’s Defense Systems and Services group, Brush is a member of a unit providing system modification and logistics support for government aircraft, tracked and wheeled vehicles, shelters and ground support equipment.

Specifically he is working on United States military vehicles, the majority of which are humvees and the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement MTVR, more commonly called the 7-ton truck.

All of this is being done at Camp Fallujah, located approximately 45 minutes west of Baghdad. That is 45 minutes by helicopter, which is the only way brush has ever entered or left the camp.

“I can honestly say I have never felt unsafe once at the base,” Brush confessed. “That said, I still have never ventured outside the wire.”

The wire is the secured barbed wire fence that houses the base, which houses only contractors and other non-military personnel.

Brush instead focuses his attention on work, which goes on seven days a week.

On the typical day, Brush is up at 5:00 a.m. and on a bus to the meal hall by 5:30 a.m. After breakfast, the employees answer the muster call at 6:30 a.m. After a 30-minute safety briefing, it is back on the bus. Brush and five fellow mechanics travel to the transportation unit where they work on US Marine Corps vehicles.

The workday closes at 6:00 p.m. with a bus ride back to the main facility, for muster and another safety briefing before being dismissed at 7:00 p.m. After dinner, it’s a bus ride back to the sleeping quarters, large tents.

The Memphis man then waits patiently with the 300 other employees for access to one of the camp’s four telephones or four internet connections to send a message back to his family or try to catch up on news from back home.

“That is one of the more difficult aspects of life at the camp,” Brush said. “There is only one TV station and one radio station, so we are limited on what news we hear,” Brush admitted.

After that time, Brush said he hits the shower and then normally mingles with co-workers, normally finding time to watch a movie on a neighbor’s portable DVD player.

“A lot of guys have laptop computers and other entertainment to keep them busy after work,” he said.

Brush admitted there are plenty of days that folks are not too interested in doing anything after dark except sleep.

After working in 120 degree temperatures, he noted that the mechanics can be pretty drained by the end of the day.

“The hottest I saw it was 144-degrees,” he said. “In July and August the temperatures ranged from 120 to 140 degrees. But we have a system in place that mandates regular breaks when it gets that hot, to make sure no one overheats.”

That also means the consumption of large quantities of water.

“That was one thing I realized when I got back,” he said. “I stopped at Casey’s and bought a Mountain Dew and I couldn’t get over how small the bottle felt in my hand compared to the giant water containers we can down in just a few drinks while working in that heat.”

But as the seasons change, the 100-degree nights are being replaced with what we would call fall weather here. Temperatures are still in the 80s during the days, dropping down to the 50s after dark. The mercury will continue to fall, but winter will mean lots of rain instead of snow.

Brush said he is packing his cold-weather gear for his return trip. His final five months in Iraq will include the winter months when temperatures will cool off. Carhart coveralls will be a must as Brush said that most of the vehicles his crew works on are too large for the tent where they work, forcing them to brave the heat, or cold to get the job done.

The work includes second and third level maintenance. The mechanics work directly with the U.S. Marines, handling the more difficult tasks to maintain the trucks and humvees used for military convoys.

While Brush spent approximately 19 hours on planes on his way to Iraq, he said the long distances were erased when he arrived. He rooms with a fellow mechanic from Des Moines, IA and also works regularly with a marine from Quincy, IL, proving it really is a small world.

That isn’t to say that his 53-person unit isn’t diverse. While 90-percent of the crew has past military backgrounds, their hometowns are scattered across the United States and even Europe, with one man from the Philippines.

While the schedule sounds like all work, Brush said the group does get treated to special events from time to time, including barbecues on Sundays.

While he has lost more than 20 pounds on the job, Brush said it was not due to the food. He praised the cafeteria as well as the other infrastructure at the camp, referring to it as a small-scale town.

He couldn’t say the same for the area outside of the camp. While he doesn’t see much around the camp, as all of the helicopter traffic is conducted after dark, with no lights, he said he was sad to see the conditions in Baghdad.

The contractors are transported off base to the capital city where the travel on commercial airlines from Baghdad International Airport.

“The area shows what it has been through, a war,” he said. “Obviously the conditions aren’t great.”

The 19 hours of travel commence from there on a plane to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Then it is on to London, before hopping a plane to Chicago, and then down to St. Louis.

“It definitely is a long trip,” Brush said. “Factor in a nine-hour time difference and it really hits you.”

Despite the heat, the long days and the jet lag, Brush has a positive response to the year-long adventure.

“I have to say that I have enjoyed the experience,” he said. “And yes, if I had it to do all over again, I would make the same decision to go to Iraq.”

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