ABOARD USS BATAAN -- Changing the engine in a Marine Corps humvee can be difficult under the best of circumstances. An engine swap is not everyday maintenance for a humvee, especially on a ship packed with enough gear and supplies to support a myriad of potential Marine Expeditionary Unit operations.
But the wrench-wielding warriors of the 26th MEU's Combat Logistics Element, Combat Logistics Battalion - 26, thought nothing of rolling up their sleeves and getting shoulder deep in grease and anti-freeze to change not one, but two engines.
The unit made the unusual decision to do the swap now because no one knew when the MEU would have the luxury of pulling into a port or area where the vehicle could be unloaded and worked on, said Chief Warrant Officer Todd L. McAllister, maintenance officer for CLB-26.
"We chose to do it now because this vehicle may be needed for a tactical mission," he said. "Instead of waiting and taking this vehicle out of service, we decided to do it here."
Doing a full engine swap in a humvee while afloat aboard a ship is almost unheard of according to everyone involved.
"I've never seen it done before," said McAllister, "If it has, it is very, very rare."
Lt. Col. John W. Capdepon, executive officer of the 26th MEU, said as far as he is aware, a full engine change has only been done one other time by a MEU while underway, and that was in the mid-1990s.
Just arranging to get all the proper parts, tools and implements to do the work was a challenge for everyone involved.
"It required a lot of coordination," said McAllister. "We had to cross-deck the engines from the [USS Oak Hill], and we had to work with the MEU Combat Cargo to get the vehicle off the [Landing Craft Air Cushioned] where it was pre-staged."
And that was just to get to the truck. In a hold packed literally bumper to bumper with vehicles, finding enough space to arrange for the humvee to be moved behind a 7-ton wrecker truck presented more challenges for Combat Cargo.
Once that was accomplished, the peculiarities of working in a sea-borne environment forced the Marines to take even more steps.
"Cleanliness is a big issue," said McAllister. "It's easier to clean up in shop than on ship, so we had to coordinate with ship's [Hazardous Materials section] to ensure we properly disposed of the various pollutants that exist in an engine."
After all the coordination, the Marines finally started to take apart the stricken humvee, but without many of the tools, and noise, that would normally entail.
"Normally we would have air-powered impact tools and a proper lift to remove and replace the engine," said Sgt. Micah J. Sopoleski, motor transportation section head for CLB-26.
Aboard the Bataan they had only hand-tools, the wrecker truck, and lots of elbow grease.
"Also, because of the height limit inside here, we can't properly lift the engine out; we are going to have to finesse it out," said Sopoleski.
For all the talk of trouble and difficulty, the three Marines working on the swap didn't seem to be having any problems at all. Less than two-and-a-half hours after starting, the blown engine was already sitting on a pallet beside the humvee.
The Marines had predicted nine hours to do the entire swap, but it took them only six, a testament to their skills as mechanics.
McAllister praised his mechanics and their improvisation skills.
"These guys are just happy to be working," said McAllister. "They're good mechanics - the best I've seen."
The Marines and sailors of CLB-26, along with the Marines and sailors of the 26th MEU's Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion 2nd Marine Regiment, and Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron - 264 (Rein.), are currently underway during a routine, scheduled deployment which departed Camp Lejeune, N.C., Jan. 6, 2007.
For more information on the MEU, including news, videos, and contact information, please visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.