STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking a toll on American troops and the equipment they use - tanks, Humvees, and helicopters. The Pentagon is asking Congress for more than $13 billion dollars to repair and replace machinery. And this morning we'll meet some of the mechanics who would make those repairs.
NPR's Adam Hochberg reports.
ADAM HOCHBERG: Inside a corrugated metal garage at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, a small group of Army mechanics spend their days dealing with a different kind of war casualty.
(Soundbite of machinery)
Major TERRY WESCOTT (U.S. Army): This is a Humvee. It's a hardtop Humvee. It has multiple uses within the Army.
HOCHBERG: Major Terry Wescott gets these Humvees after the Army has used them. Wescott runs this repair shop, what the military calls an equipment reconstitution site. Mechanics here tend to vehicles from Army Reserves, civil affairs, and psychological operations units. Most have come back from Afghanistan or Iraq, and Wescott says they often bear the scars of war.
Maj. WESCOTT: The extended use of the vehicles in theater, of course, causes more, you know, just the desert itself causes more wear and tear on the vehicles, as well as some of them had sustained battle damage and so forth. So they do the repairs here, and when it comes back, it's in like-new condition.
HOCHBERG: Getting the equipment back into new condition can be challenging. Many vehicles have severe body damage or are in need of complete engine overhauls. Out of a recent group of 38 Humvees that arrived here, only eight ran. Sergeant Ceferino Lopez, a mechanic from New York, says vehicles coming back from the Middle East often look ready for the junkyard.
Sergeant CEFERINO LOPEZ (U.S. Army): Some of them, they've been hit with who knows what over there, ran over who knows what over there, or just got smashed into, you know. If you're taking fire from one shot or another and people will have a tendency to either hit the brake and hit the gas. And if somebody hits the brake in front of you when you hit the gas behind them. They come back pretty messed up though.
HOCHBERG: Still, Fort Bragg mechanics can fix most of these vehicles and return them to duty. While the reservists here at the reconstitution site tend to tires and batteries and windshields, other soldiers on base replace engines, do body work, and give each truck or Humvee a fresh coat of desert tan paint.
Army vehicles have a minimalist design that allows even severely damaged ones to be fixed in a week or two. And Sergeant Edward McNair, who used to own an auto shop in the civilian world, says in some ways this work is easier.
Sergeant EDWARD MCNAIR (U.S. Army): Military got a standard to it. There's a procedure that they must go through. In the civilian sector, there is not a procedure. Anybody come up with any questions, any way they want it.
HOCHBERG: You know, replace my oil with the kind of oil I want. You'll hear about it in your own shop. Here you know what the rules are.
Sgt. MCNAIR: I know the rules. We got one standard-sized oil, that's what we put in everybody. It isn't like they're going to get Pennzoil.
HOCHBERG: The Army operates several repair depots around the country where mechanics fix vehicles, upgrade armor, and also work on broken radios, generators and other military machines. It's a job that's become especially important as U.S. involvement continues in the Middle East.
At a recent congressional hearing, Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker said military hardware is under what he called unprecedented stress.
General PETER SCHOOMAKER (U.S. Army Chief of Staff): The destruction of equipment, the wearing out of equipment is accelerated over what it was before. I mean, we're wearing out helicopters and trucks, Humvees, tanks at rates that are six, eight, 10 times in some cases what were programmed for. So obviously, combat action is destroying equipment we've committed.
HOCHBERG: Last year, Congress appropriated $17 billion to repair and replace Army equipment, a sharp increase in funding from previous years. But while Schoomaker says that's reduced the Army's maintenance backlog, repair depots still are working 20 hours a day, six days a week. And Schoomaker says billions more must be spent on machinery so soldiers overseas have equipment to fight with and units at home have equipment to train with.
Adam Hochberg, NPR News.
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