By Rich Phillips reporting from Jacksonville, FL
It's not your run-of-the-mill repair shop. The people working here are readying the Marine Corps for unknown conflicts.
At Blount Island Command in Jacksonville, Florida, bullet-riddled and wartorn equipment and trucks from Iraq and Afghanistan are being cleaned, repaired and retrofitted for the next time the phone rings.
"The goal is to never use the stuff," said Lt. Col. Rick Steele, the base commanding officer. "It's the best we have. The perfect case is to bring it back here, recycle it and never use it."Here, half of the Marine Corps' ground combat assets are maintained and upgraded by Honeywell, which has a staff of 600.
"We don't pick up weapons and go fight. We're helping every step of the way to help them do their job, right up to that fight line," said Doug Hill, Honeywell's operation manager at Blount Island.
The process is a complicated choreography of the behind-the-scenes repair and logistics that make up the national security business. It includes everything from basic routine maintenance and repairs of armored personnel carriers and Humvees to retrofitting a vehicle with armor.
Wilbur Scott, a retired sailor who has been with Honeywell for 14 years, is a senior mechanic working on an armored personnel carrier, trying to get it battle-ready again.
"They don't tell us what's wrong with it," he said. "They say 'this is your vehicle; go fix it.' It's not like you take your car to the dealership."
He and his partner, A.J. Jenkins, have been working on it for two weeks. They started with a test drive and have identified a fuel line that needed replacing.
"Our job is to make sure that those guys, wherever they are throughout the world, have the best qualified vehicle for whatever they have to do. That's our goal, and that's our motivation," Scott said.
"No one wants to have to send a message to their kids that it didn't happen or something we did that didn't give them the full advantage of what we do," he said.
This armored personnel carrier will be loaded aboard a ship that will set sail for the Indian Ocean, one of three areas of the world where U.S. Marines position their assets aboard 14 ships.
In the Indian Ocean, five ships packed to the gills with everything a Marine needs for any mission can sustain a squadron of 17,000 Marines for 30 days. The supplies and equipment are climate-controlled.
The Marines also position in the Mediterranean Sea and in Guam in the Pacific Ocean.
"Everything from the sublime to the ridiculous, from a first aid kit to a tank," said Jim Hooks of the Marine Corps.
"It's an exceptionally credible combat force that can kick in the door and stay for a while," he said.
About 300 contract workers who live aboard the ships continuously maintain the cargo when not in use by Honeywell. Thirty-six months later, the ships return to Jacksonville to be thoroughly maintained and readied again.
"If we needed to get there right now and be able to stay and conduct business, whether it be humanitarian assistance or conflict resolution, nobody else in the world can get there like we can," Steele said.
"Unfortunately, we know from most recent experiences that the gear gets used several times a year," he said.
And it's not just in military operations and conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Marines have assisted in disaster relief after the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, as well as in tsunami relief.
"This stuff is made to be abused, and if we have to, we know how to abuse it," Steele said.