CAMP MARMAL, Afghanistan – Each day soldiers in northern Afghanistan ride on rugged, pothole-laden roads as they drive on convoys and patrols. They rely on their vehicles to run smoothly and there is no room for error. If a vehicle breaks down, it can put soldiers at an unnecessary risk. Croatian mechanics and their U.S. counterparts work side-by-side in the Croatian vehicle maintenance shop at Camp Marmal, and they all know this. That is why soldiers from both nations are vigilant about the work they do to maintain the Croatian, Hungarian and U.S. fleet in Regional Command North. Their craftsmanship can potentially save lives.
The Armed Forces of the Republic of Croatia became a part of the International Security Assistance Force in 2003. The experienced Croatian team of logisticians and mechanics working in the shop come from Croatian Contingent 19.
“Our mission is to take care of the entire vehicle and radio equipment and be ready to help soldiers be fully capable to do their mission,” said Maj. Milan Slavica, chief of the Croatian National Support Element in northern Afghanistan.
Croatian Sgt. First Class Damir Tutic is on his first mission to Afghanistan as one of the lead mechanics of the radiona, or workshop. In Croatia, he is an instructor of military vehicle maintenance. His knowledge comes in handy as he helps oversee four masters who service and repair the vehicles. An additional master services weapons. They work on all types of military vehicles, from small jeeps to construction vehicles and Load Handling Service vehicles.
“I inspect vehicles and see what is wrong. If I have the part, I have my masters here who fix it,” Tutic said when describing his job. “This is a team with a lot of experience and we take pride in our work.”
The team of Croatian mechanics is supported by soldiers of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade’s 615th ASB (Aviation Support Battalion), which includes Sgt. Carmon Cave Jr. He is the inspections non-commissioned officer-in-charge from HSC, 615th ASB, who assists the Croatian soldiers in ordering parts and providing technical advice regarding vehicle services.
This is truly a one-stop shop when it comes to vehicle maintenance. “They’ll do a complete service, change the oil, repack the bearings, pull the tires off, and grease up all the grease fittings. They test drive it, and then they’ll bring it back,” said Cave.
The language barrier is usually overcome by showing pictures of the various parts with different names in each language. It can make for a fun time in the shop, however, Cave and the Croatian soldiers in the shop do not joke about the seriousness of their job. “That truck is their [soldiers] lifeline out there. If that truck is not 100 percent ready to go, then its failure on our part,” said Cave.
The mechanics work around the clock to get vehicles repaired so that missions are not cancelled. Their dedication to their craftsmanship and the mission is seen in their happy customers. “Our users speak to our results,” said Slavica. “So when I see that users are satisfied, we are proud of that. I am proud to serve here.”
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