When I went from Light Infantry to M113 APC mounted Mechanized Infantry, one big cultural shift I wasn’t prepared for was the obsessive attention paid to mechanical maintenance on the company vehicles. An H-series TO&E M113 equipped Infantry company had three platoons of four M113s, plus an M113 for the Company Commander, and one for the Company XO. It also had a Humvee for the CO, and one for the company 1SG. The company also had two M35 series 2-1/2 ton trucks, one with a 3/4 ton trailer, and one with a 400 gallon water trailer.
And every Monday morning, the vast majority of the company would head to the motor pool, and spend the day performing maintenance on the vehicles. For instance, I was in the 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, and my squad “owned” the M113 marked with the bumper number A-11. The assigned driver and I (I was the track commander) would whip out the operators technical manual (commonly called the ‘Dash 10’ from the alphanumeric TM number assigned) and visit the chapters on daily and weekly Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services, or PMCS. All deficiencies found (and there were always deficiencies) were carefully annotated on DA Form 2404.
Much like caring for your family car, a great deal of the work is done by the operator. But sometimes, there are issues that you need to take it to the shop for repairs. For instance, if the automatic transmission is slipping, you probably would let your mechanic work on that.
You’ll notice in the brief discussion on the organization of the company, no mechanics were mentioned. That’s because the maintenance platoon belongs to the battalion Headquarters and Headquarters Company. The maintenance platoon provided organizational level maintenance to all the tracked and wheeled vehicles in the entire battalion, about 130 pieces of rolling stock. Further, the maintenance platoon tasked a Maintenance Contact Team of five or six mechanics, typically under a Staff Sergeant, to habitually support each company. So, while our mechanics were always in another company, they were also always our mechanics.
Our mechanics were also the folks in charge of ordering parts as required for the vehicles. For instance, if I needed to replace a headlight on my M113, I’d write up the deficiency on the 2404, take it to the mechanics, and have them issue me one. The issue, from stocks on hand, also generated an order to the Division Main Support Battalion to requisition another part, to replace the stock.
When deployed to the field, the Contact Team collocated with the supported company. The team had an M113 APC, an M578 Light Recovery Vehicle or VTR, and an M35 series duece and a half, which had a plywood shelter on the back, and was used to carry the spare parts, known as the PLL or Primary Load List. The PLL truck was usually located at the field trains, with the battalion kitchens and other logistics were, leaving just the M113 and the VTR forward with the company.
The VTR was fine for virtually all maintenance and recovery chores for the M113. The problem was, Mechanized Infantry companies typically swapped out a platoon of infantry for a platoon of tanks. The VTR was far to small to tow a tank. And the arrival of the M2/M3 Bradley exacerbated matters. The VTR was also underpowered to tow a Bradley. And so, with the introduction of the Bradley, the VTR was set out to pasture, and Mechanized Infantry battalions were issued the recovery vehicle Armor battalions had long been using, the M88.
The M88 had been introduced to support (and built on the chassis of) the old M48 and M60 Patton series of tanks. It had only the thinnest margin of performance to support the much heavier M1 tanks, and later M1A1 and M1A2 tanks were just too heavy for it. And so, the Army procured the upgraded M88A2 Hercules variant for its Armor battalions. And indeed, the Army has decided that all heavy battalions will be equipped with the M88A2.
The mechanics don’t exactly have the most glamorous job in the Army. Virtually every wrenchbender I knew was always covered in grease and grime. But they also, as a general rule, took great pride in the work they did, and put in long hours in the field repairing the vehicles that careless grunts had managed to break.
I did learn to embrace the Army’s obsession with maintenance. It costs a lot of time and money to keep a vehicle well maintained. But it also means that the Army can routinely expect its vehicles to last a quarter century or more, even when subjected to some of the harshest treatment possible.