Military convoys in dusty, rugged terrain and around-the-clock use in combat are all in a day’s work for armored vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus, when it comes time for such battle-worn armored vehicles to return to the United States, a good scrubbing is in order. This is where the wash rack at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, comes in.
|A crewmember sprays the underside of a U.S. Army armored vehicle at the Camp Arifjan wash rack in Kuwait. After a through cleaning, U.S. Navy customs troops inspect vehicles for dirt and sand before issuing a clearance form for passage to the United States. All of the trucks and tanks being shipped from Iraq as a result of the drawdown will get a scrubbing at the wash racks on the KNB or Camp Arifjan. (U.S. Army photo by Natalie Cole)|
The wash rack is a cleaning and customs inspection site run by both the Army and the Navy. The 653rd Readiness Support Group, Deployment and Redeployment Operations Task Force, makes reservations for troops headed home to have their equipment cleaned and inspected. The U.S. Naval Expeditionary Logistics Support Group-Forward oversees the cleaning and customs at the wash rack. The two services work as a team of teams to keep armored vehicles moving through the redeployment process.
Petty Officer 1st Class James Bruce, who oversees customs operations, said the Navy troops make sure armored vehicles do not contain contraband, such as drugs and ammunition. The troops also search for other surprises, such as animals and bugs. Their searches often reveal dead birds who once nested in the backs of trucks, where it’s “nice and warm,” said Bruce, who is from Buffalo, N.Y.
The rack is like a giant carwash, as it allows troops and contracted crews to wash 84 armored vehicles at one time. Bruce said all types of armored vehicles headed back to the United States pass through the Arifjan wash racks.
“We clean everything. We’ve got tanks, MRAPS [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles] coming through here,” he said, emphasizing that “on the trucks ... from Iraq or Afghanistan, there’s a lot of mud, dirt, sand.”
But this carwash is not the place for a quick cleaning with Turtle Wax and soap suds.
Bruce said it takes about 48 hours to clean one whole tank — a process that involves removing the engine and transmission from the vehicle and disassembling parts to be cleaned separately and then put back.
“We’ve got to find where mud is, where dirt is,” he explained. “Usually behind the wheels, there’s a lot of dirt. You learn the hot spots.”
Such finely detailed cleaning also ensures crews remove things not visible to the naked eye, according to Sgt. 1st Class Don Reed, wash rack noncommissioned officer. Sand can contain microscopic spores that can be harmful, so all surfaces need to be spic and span, he explained.
When scrubbing armored vehicles, crews use treated water and pressure hoses. The cleaning is systematic. Crew members usually clean from the top of the vehicle and work their way down. The wash racks have ramps and creepers (boards with wheels) so crews can clean the undersides of the vehicles, leaving no stone unturned.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Luis Factora, of Irvine, Calif., explained the overall rationale behind applying attention to detail in the customs process. “In one word, it’s security. It’s securing everything we can for our country,” he said. “We make sure whatever comes into the States is clear of anything harmful to us or [anything] that could damage the environment.”
To meet the demands of servicing thousands of vehicles, the racks are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Troops and crew members work long shifts in extreme temperatures to keep the cleaning moving. The heat during the day can impact the pace, but even in the hottest times, work continues, albeit at a less vigorous pace, Bruce said. As the troops uphold continuous operations, they feel the strain of their efforts.
“At night, when you finish, all you want to do is go to sleep,” Bruce said.
Once they have cleared customs, the vehicles move to an enclosed sterile lot on Camp Arifjan, where they briefly await transportation to a port in Kuwait to be shipped home, said Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos Gomez, from Chicago.
Overall, the process of getting vehicles through customs and back to the United States demands collaboration, from the convoy into Kuwait and the detailed cleaning at the wash racks to the customs inspections and the journey to the ports.
Reed, who is from Oakland, Calif., said performing the oversight and coordination it takes to get troops and equipment home is rewarding. “It’s very satisfying to help these units with all the steps they need to take to get home,” he said. “For every one of them, it’s been a long year.”
The 653rd RSG and the Deployment/Redeployment Task Force fall under the 1st Theater Sustainment Command, whose mission is to provide the facilities and logistical support to sustain war fighters.
With the Responsible Drawdown in Iraq in high gear, the 1st TSC supports redeployment missions such as the mission enacted at the wash rack. In addition to managing the wash racks, the 653rd supports deploying and redeploying soldiers as they come through Camp Arifjan.
Embedded below is a video showing some of the service members cleaning military vehicles to get them ready for redeployment. The wash rack services approximately 3,500 pieces of equipment per week. The video was produced by Pfc. Jeremy Odom.