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Testing the Capabilities of the HEMTT Wrecker

An FSC in Iraq tested the capabilities of its wreckers through a variety of heavy-duty missions.

As the maintenance platoon leader in a forward support company (FSC), I am responsible for personnel management, paperwork, and mission planning. In one mission, the FSC assisted in closing a joint security station manned by U.S. Soldiers and the Iraqi Police. Before this operation, the FSC’s Soldiers knew their equipment’s basic capabilities. However, after the operation, my FSC knew the limitations and full capabilities of its systems.

Finding the Weight Limit

The most valuable tool used throughout the entire operation was the FSCs M984 wrecker-recovery heavy expanded-mobility tactical trucks (HEMTTs). Before this mission, the FSC consulted the M984 technical manual for information on the lift capabilities of the wrecker’s crane. The operators found that the crane’s lift capability was adequate for the mission that the FSC would be attempting to perform. Although lift capacity information is considered common knowledge, operators and supervisors regularly check the technical manual for a vehicle’s weight lifting limit. As long as a plan can be made on how to lift an object and the object weighs less than the weight limit, the object can be safely lifted.

The First Test: The Weight Limit

During the operation to close the joint security station, the cranes were pushed to the limit. Our first mission was to lower and remove an 85-foot-tall rapid aerostat initial deployment tower. This tower had been damaged while it was being lowered when a support cable became stuck, bending the tower in such a way that it could no longer lower into itself.

The maintenance platoon’s service and recovery noncommissioned officer-in-charge and I developed a plan for safely lowering and dismantling the tower. This plan consisted of backing a wrecker up to the base of the tower to support the tower’s weight as it was lowered. Then the hydraulics that normally lay the tower down on its trailer were used to lower the tower while a second wrecker assisted in the operation. This second wrecker raised its boom out to its full length, and then a Soldier took the cable from it, climbed 60 feet up the tower, and attached the cable to the tower. The wrecker and hydraulics then lowered the tower down with no damage to vehicles, personnel, or the tower.

The Second Test: Moving MILVANs

During a second “drawdown,” two wreckers were taken out to the joint security station and used to move 20-foot MILVANs [military-owned demountable containers]. Four of these large containers, which were almost as long as tractor-trailer containers, needed to be lifted and placed on flatracks for transport. To accomplish this, the wreckers backed up to opposite sides of a MILVAN and attached their cables to the top. Then they lifted the MILVAN while a palletized load system (PLS) pushed the flatrack underneath it. This was very impressive, as each MILVAN weighed more than 6,000 pounds. Once the MILVANs were in place on the flatracks, the wreckers were used to move several smaller items, such as generators and trailers.

The Final Test: A Tight Squeeze

The FSC’s final mission required the wreckers to remove a flatrack from underneath a very large civilian generator that was powering a dozen different buildings. The generator weighed about 250,000 pounds and was in a very small area with little maneuver room. The two wreckers backed up to the generator from opposite sides and lifted it, and a PLS truck approached and pulled out the flatrack on which the generator had been sitting. This operation was very demanding and required some ingenuity because the wreckers had objects in their way requiring them to extend their booms and lift the generator from about 15 feet away.

Little recognition is given to service and recovery sections across the Army, but they serve varied and vital roles in FSCs. Without their vast knowledge of their equipment and ingenuity in using it, many missions could not be completed. The M984 HEMTT wrecker is a very capable piece of equipment that, in the hands of the right operators, can accomplish many missions that previously were believed to be impossible. One should never underestimate what these vehicles can do. As leaders, knowing the vehicles full capabilities and using them to their safest maximum potential is essential.

First Lieutenant Jeffrey Teplis was the maintenance platoon leader of G Company, a forward support company of the 26th Brigade Support Battalion, 2d Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3d Infantry Division, during its recent deployment to Iraq. He holds a bachelorís degree in social science with minors in political science and military leadership from North Georgia College and State University, and he is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course.

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