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First Defense: Lubricants


KUWAIT – The shifting desert sands of Kuwait may make a good setting for a movie, but for the soldiers stationed in this dry country, the fine-gritted abrasive is a major enemy that bears constant preparation to counter.

Grease is the word, said Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Poling, maintenance floor supervisor for the Navy Seabees. Lubrication is the simplest and most effective way to beat any abrasives when dealing with our equipment.

Southwest Asia sand is so fine it is carried in the air and gets into moving parts on equipment necessary to fulfill the mission for the 377th Theater Support Command (FWD) here. Even the air carries it into every nook and cranny, agreed Sgt. Bryan Koch and Spc. Dennis Spiller, both direct support mechanics for the 96th Transportation Command within the 377th TSC.

Maintenance chiefs agree that the sand wears out equipment quickly, and the only thing that keeps the bushings and bearings from wearing out is proper operator maintenance, and following a strict lubrication schedule.

As seen during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, fine Southwest Asian sand is able to pass through filters and penetrate machine parts. Lessons from Desert Storm have been put into practice, but in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the operation has been a longer activity. Hence, there has been more learning and finding even better ways to keep equipment lubricated.

To begin, the Seabees lube all moving parts at least monthly.

It depends on the lube charts. The operator should follow the chart, said Poling.

Sand, Dust, Grit

The 96th Transportation Command uses about 100 gallons of assorted weight lubrication oils and greases per month. Multiply that by all the various commands here, and youre looking at literally thousands of gallons of lubricants needed each week. The maintenance crews are better prepared now for keeping the sand, dust and grit at bay than just a short time ago.

For Koch and Spiller, this is their third rotation to the desert. We are set up to conduct good, quality maintenance in this extreme environment. Its a lot better than just a year ago, they said.

Among the problems that were previously seen were U-joints taking a lot of wear and tear, as did bearings on the track and wheeled vehicles. In some instances, major drivetrain assemblies blew because of viscosity breakdown of petroleum products. These issues were resolved and/or minimized due to very proactive lubing service. Wheel bearings were a problem also, with the seizing and/or burning of them. This can lead to more extensive issues, but once again, proper servicing of equipment catches it before complete breakdown.

But no matter how great the unit maintenance is, the crucial maintenance is conducted by the operator. All everyone has to do is follow the lubrication charts and schedules, and the life expectancy of their equipment will be very long, said Poling.

We wind up with the aftermath of poor maintenance, said Koch and Spiller, both pointing out a box of worn-out gears and bearings. Those worn-out gears and bearings are the result of poor maintenance that could have been avoided with proper lubrication during daily operations.

The Motor Pool

The 377th Theater Support Command is responsible for supplying everything the Third Army forces need here – whether its food, water, training, shelter, transportation or equipment. Every day there are many convoys moving through Iraq and Afghanistan, transporting personnel and supplies.

Throughout the theater of operations, there are hundreds of wheeled and tracked vehicles in service. Many people have seen photos of Humvees, but there are also 5-ton trucks, 2-1/2 ton trucks, trailers, container haulers, and Bradley armored infantry carriers. One of the largest vehicles is the M88, which is a tracked wrecker that tows any armored tracked vehicle that may break down. There are also large, 25-ton building cranes that the Seabees use, as well as excavators and trenchers. The smallest pieces of equipment? That would be our small electrical generators, or perhaps the gators – golf-cart size vehicles used for short hops around base.

Whatever the equipment size, lubrication is the crews duty first (usually the driver and assistant driver), before it is the maintenance crews duty. The maintenance crew is responsible for scheduled maintenance, but the operators themselves are the first line of defense. They know that if a piece of equipment goes down and supplies cannot be delivered where they are needed, that means another truck or piece of equipment will have to be brought in to get the job done – which further delays the mission.

In each vehicle dispatched youll find a lubrication chart and checklist, known as the -10 (dash-10). Before operating any piece, the operator grabs the -10 checklist and walks around, checking tires and belts, noting any damage, getting down and checking below for leaks – and monitoring fluid levels. Crews adamantly follow the routine spelled out on the -10 because they know the importance of preventing a vehicle from going down. Any breakdown may mean operators are stranded far from water or the nearest place to get help.

On the Chart, and Off

For each item, the -10 schedule may call for lubrication before, after, daily, weekly or monthly. This depends on the items being lubricated. While stateside and especially in theater, soldiers lube in accordance with the Lubrication Order (LO) of that particular piece of equipment.

These lubrication charts were set by the Department of the Army. Because preventive maintenance checks and services are so imperative and the need to provide the soldiers with the best equipment possible, Commands go beyond what the LO suggests in some cases. The service schedule, more so than the chart, is established by the usage of the equipment and the time of the next scheduled service.

This is why some pieces receive more frequent lubrication, such as up-armored M1114s (Humvees) and M984s (heavy recovery vehicles), due to their need for mission accomplish and constant mobilization. With all the demands for force protection, these vehicles have added weight, which in turn causes moving parts to work a lot harder. Also, convoy vehicles are the ones that do a lot more miles in rugged, dusty conditions, traveling perhaps from Camp Virginia in Kuwait up to Northern Iraq and back, then repeating the trip two days later.

Oil analysis is regularly done by some maintenance crews, and if it shows a pattern of wear, the maintenance crews can adjust the lubrication schedule as necessary. The lubrication schedule is Command-directed, and each Command can alter the schedule as needed. Based on the appearance, operation of equipment and scheduled service instructions, the Command can decide what needs to be changed. In the end, schedules are a good rule of thumb, but the Army depends on good operator maintenance – the operators know their pieces of equipment and how much theyve been used (whether tracked by hours or miles) and in what type of terrain.

According to the maintenance units assigned to the 377th Theater Support Command, the Army has a very productive and rigorous service program in place, which is an ongoing process.

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