FORT McCOY, Wis. –
Many people are familiar with Operation Desert Shield/Storm and Operation Desert Fox. But not as many are aware of Operation Desert Fix where the heroes were the mechanics assigned to the Equipment Concentration Site 67 here.
Starting in Spring of 1991, ECS 67 started receiving equipment and vehicles for repair from the Middle East after the conclusion of Operation Desert Storm, which grew to “hundreds of hundreds” recalled George Hafner, one of only two current employees at ECS 67 who were there at the time of Desert Fix. Presently a work leader, then he was a “straight 8” or wage grade 8 mechanic. Hafner has been with ECS 67 since December 1990.
Joining him was Timothy Lawrence, then an automotive worker and now a heavy mobile equipment repair supervisor. He joined ECS 67 the same month and year as Hafner. Currently ECS 67 belongs to the 88th Readiness Division dual headquartered at Fort Snelling, Minn., and here. At the time of the mission, the ECS fell under the 86th Army Reserve Command.
For six to eight months, Lawrence and Hafner were joined by about two dozen other mechanics to repair the flood of equipment and vehicles surging into the ECS. Other shops located here also participated in Operation Desert Fix over the course of a year.
“The volume of the equipment coming in was taking away from our mission, so halfway through we went to two shifts,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence feels that two reasons ECS 67 was chosen for the mission were the location and availability of manpower. “A lot of the equipment belonged to units located around here. We maintain and store Army Reserve equipment from Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana and parts of Ohio,” he said.
One positive was that the mechanics saw no equipment that they hadn’t worked on in the past. Hafner spent most of his time at the trailer shop where he mainly repaired M872 three-axle flatbed trailers. “Most of them were pretty rusty…they were really in tough shape,” he said.
Lawrence worked largely on tactical wheeled vehicles, such as deuce-and-a-halves, 5-tons, cargo trucks and tractors.
Hafner said he saw the competing requirement to repair the equipment coming in for Desert Fix and continue to execute the dual mission to support the Army Reserve units as the biggest challenge.
He also noted that another difficulty was that “the condition of the equipment was so bad, rusty, rusty, rusty. Trying to repair equipment when it’s rusty is really rough. It’s hard to get it apart, hard to repair.”
Lawrence said the poor equipment condition was the result of the climate, from the desert environment, sand and exposure to salty sea water and sea air during transport to and from the Middle East. “All that coming together really takes a toll on the equipment,” he said.
One of the lessons Hafner learned from the experience was “being flexible with my schedule. At a moment’s notice you could be pulled to work on something else.”
Lawrence said that one of the advantages of being involved in the historic mission was that the work “enhanced my learning and broadened my maintenance skills.”
He added that “the completion of the mission, having a sense of purpose and supporting the troops” gave him fulfillment.
Hafner also felt a sense of accomplishment from the mission. “Seeing a piece of equipment after it first came in, getting it apart and repairing it back to [Technical Manual] 10-20 standards was the best part about the mission. Seeing a trailer go out ready for a mission was by far the best, and we know the units that used the equipment were appreciative of the work we did.”
Lawrence recounted an interesting story. The mechanics had an issue with a 10-ton crane. “The hydraulics weren’t working. They got to the point where they drained the reservoir; you’re looking at 50 gallons of hydraulic fluid. When they started draining it, they noticed chunks of rubber, like inner tube rubber. They could see this thing laying in there. It was an AK-47 [rifle] a troop wanted to bring back to the States. He wrapped it up in tire rubber and dropped it in the hydraulic tank and was planning to recover it at the Reserve Center.”
The unidentified Soldier didn’t get to keep the rifle.