Nevada Air Guard mechanics increase vehicle readiness
Editor’s note: This is the fourth story in a five-part series about the National Guard’s involvement with Operation Jump Start. Nevada Appeal News Service reporter Steve Ranson, who is a member of the Nevada Army National Guard and managing editor of its quarterly newspaper, recently returned from a five-day trip to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Work puts border agents back on patrol
By STEVE RANSON
Nevada Appeal News Service
NOGALES, Arizona – Even on a Saturday morning, the clanging of tools repairing engines and differentials echoed through the bay at the U.S. Border Patrol’s Nogales station.
A whir from a drill and the sound of an engine drowned out talking between soldiers.
But no one was noticing the increased noise, neither the Border Patrol agents nor the soldiers from the 150th Maintenance Co., headquartered in Carson City with a detachment in Las Vegas.
The guardsmen recently returned from a three-week mission to Arizona where they assisted the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in Operation Jump Start, a two-year mission directed by President Bush to help the Border Patrol improve its day-to-day operations and to increase the agency’s number of agents along the border.
“It’s going great. The Border Patrol told us they needed us here 10 years ago to free agents up to go to the border,” said 1st Sgt. Emerson “Bud” Chattin, a deputy with the Storey County Sheriff’s Department.
For the first three weeks of August, the 97 mechanics and support personnel from the maintenance company spread out to five sites. The majority of guardsmen stayed in Phoenix to work on military vehicles for the Arizona Army National Guard. Similar operations also occurred at Tucson and Yuma. Besides working at the Border Patrol’s Nogales headquarters, 10 more soldiers performed vehicle recovery tasks at the local Arizona Army National Guard armory three miles away.
Capt. Amy Klima, a microbiologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas said her soldiers were excited to have a real-world mission in support of Operation Jump Start.
“We’re doing a lot of cross training and trouble shooting in Arizona,” she said. “This three-week stint has been an eye opener. I didn’t realize how bad it was down here.”
Prior to their arrival, Chattin said, Border Patrol agents were re-assigned to work on vehicles.
“Border Patrol 1 was like a car dealership,” Chattin said in describing the number of vehicles being repaired at the same time.
The Border Patrol quickly saw the dividends of receiving extra help in the shop.
“The National Guard is doing a real good job pumping out vehicles right and left,” said Border Patrol agent and public information officer Tom Pittman, an 11-year veteran of the agency. “We seem to break them faster than we can fix them.”
Readiness in conducting patrols has affected the agency because of the lack of mechanics.
“We had civilian mechanics and five to six agents doing mechanical work before the guard arrived. Sometimes, after a shift change, 30 to 40 agents would wait upward to one and a half hours to get their vehicles,” Pittman said. “That’s not happening now.”
Since the Nevada unit arrived, the vehicle readiness increased from 60 percent to 72 percent, and Pittman said that number should improve with more units rotating in.
Sgt. 1st Class Luis Gutierrez, the unit’s noncommissioned officer in charge from Southern Nevada, said the mission also included the repair of generators and ATVs.
“I think it’s great for the soldiers to be part of this mission,” said the Las Vegas resident. “This is for homeland security and support of the Border Patrol.”
Gutierrez said his mechanics have turned the vehicles around a lot quicker, and they have repaired eight ATVs.
“This has worked out nicely,” Pittman said. “We have only a few ATV mechanics, and they usually had to send the ATVs back to Tucson. It would take one to two months to get them back. Now, the Army breaks them down in a matter of hours.”
Lt. Col. Pedro J. Rosario, the senior Army adviser for the Nevada Army National Guard in Carson City, said the process saves time and money. He also sees the Army spirit coming with the soldiers’ work.
“We train soldiers to train on Army vehicles with Army equipment. All of the sudden, the Army changes the mission,” Rosario said. “These guys have no formal raining, only informal training. They combined their experience through Army schools. (On-the-job training) is making things happen.”
Pittman responded, saying the soldiers are benefiting by learning different kinds of mechanical work.
At the National Guard armory, a recovery unit divided into two teams of five soldiers each worked with their Arizona counterparts.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Spinney, of Las Vegas, said a recovery unit goes into the field and either hauls back military vehicles that have broken down or pulls out vehicles that become stuck in the mud. If the unit cannot repair a vehicle within four hours, then it is sent to the larger armory at Tucson.
Most guardsmen said the recovery operations went well, and it was good practice.
Meanwhile, at Tucson, Chief Warrant Officer Ervin Chalmers said guardsmen had been working on the big two-and-half-ton trucks. Their work started with annual servicing and technical inspections until disabled vehicles arrived at the armory.
Sgt. Marcie Pirkey, of Reno, a squad leader for light-wheel vehicles, said the work has been getting done quickly, and everyone is happy with the finished product.