FORWARD OPERATING BASE ARIAN, Afghanistan — For Mohammad Dawood, a 35-year-old Afghan soldier, lessons in automotive maintenance feed a passion he has held since he was a boy.
“Since I was 13 or 14 growing up in Mazar-i-Sharif, I loved automobiles,” said the wiry-built Afghan National Army driver as he moved beneath the open clamshell hood of a Humvee that had a history of overheating.
American paratrooper, Staff Sgt. Jesse Thompson, was at the wheel, revving the engine to heat the block. He and his fellow mechanics with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team were teaching drivers of the ANA 6th Kandak the basics of preventive maintenance.
“We learn how to change the brake pads ourselves and so much more,” said Dawood, wiping grease from his hands. “We are the only mechanics we have,” he said of his fellow drivers.
Capt. Nick Carelas, Thompson’s company commander, put that into Afghan context: “Basically, they are used to using something until it breaks,” he said. “Parts are very difficult to come by, so they really make things last. The problem is, they have no mindset for preventive maintenance.
PMCS is an Army acronym for Preventive Maintenance, Checks and Services, a systematic routine that U.S. Army soldiers use to guarantee vehicles receive care at regular and necessary intervals.
“[Dawood] is always hands-on with whatever we are learning,” said Thompson, who deployed with his unit to Forward Operating Base Arian in Ghazni Province in March.
While the infantrymen of 1/82 partner with Afghan infantry to increase security along Highway 1 just outside the FOB gate, Thompson and fellow mechanics fight their fight in the maintenance bays.
“Sometimes they just want us to fix things for them,” he said, “and not all the drivers want to be here, but for the ones that do, like [Dawood], you can tell we are getting through.”
The training is part of a comprehensive plan to improve the combat power of the 6th Kandak of the 203rd Corps, according to Lt. Col. William Ryan, leader of the 6th Kandak Security Force Assistance Team, part of the 82nd Airborne Division.
“By the end of our deployment, we want to have trained mechanics, informed operators capable of finding deficiencies, parts flow that is functioning, and to have completed services on all of their equipment,” said Ryan. “When we leave, they will not only have equipment that is functioning, but enduring capacity to sustain it.”
Parts flow has been enough of a frustration that a proposal to temporarily bypass the acquisition process with a flood of parts at the user level has gained traction at the corps level, said Ryan. Dubbed Operation Abselab, meaning “to flood,” it would push prescribed load lists of parts to end users like Dawood so that he is able to fix and maintain ANA vehicles while American combat power is still available for partnered operations in Ghazni.
“Somewhere between the demand and the inventory is the bureaucratic process that is denying maintenance from taking place,” he said.
In the meantime, mechanic training at Arian will continue four days a week, he said.