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Behind the scenes at Joint Base Balad (JBB) in Balad, Iraq, stands a man who keeps United States service personnel safe and saves the government money, but he and his crew remain backstage until something goes wrong.
U.S. Army Oil Analysis Program site lead Mark J. Bass and his team of three technicians check used oil samples from aviation components, generators and military-tracked vehicles for breakdown of metals, sand contamination and ways to extend the oil life in that equipment.
These checks can help extend oil life, which is especially beneficial at JBB (located in northern Iraq, approximately 75 kilometers north of Baghdad), where some generators take up to 50 gallons - five gallons short of a barrel - of oil each, he said.
"On these generators, manufacturer warranty requires you to change the oil every 250 hours," Bass said. "You're going through a drum of oil every time you have to do an oil change. We can extend that life up to 1,500 hours easily on most generators, unless it's a problem child."
Each component's oil regulations are different, but without the laboratories to check that oil, service members must do hard interval changes averaging every three months, Bass said. Most of those vehicles could go six months to a year under normal use without the oil change, he said. While hard changes are proactive, the labs provide preventive maintenance while saving money, he said.
"It's hard to get (oil) over here, oddly enough," Bass said.
He said service members often view contact with the Army Oil Analysis Program (AOAP) as a frustration because they only hear back from the technicians if they find a problem.
"We're always the bad guys," he said. "We're here to help save the government money, to help save the soldier work and, hopefully, to help save the soldier by finding problems before they're real issues. We are here to support."
The program has five labs in southwest Asia. Each lab has its own chief who, like Bass, stays in place longer than the technicians, who often move from lab to lab, he said.
Technician Jamie I. White prepares an oil sample at the U.S. Army Oil Analysis Program lab at Joint Base Balad in Iraq. The techs are working hard to extend the oil life of equipment being used in Iraq. (Photo by Spc. Brandy M. Oxford)
The JBB AOAP lab was opened in 2004 as a mobile lab, following the troop mobilization here, but it is now a stationary facility, Bass said.
"We try to move into a fixed facility if we're going to be somewhere for a while because that gives us more room to expand and allows us to add a few additional tests that we can't have in mobile laboratories due to space," Bass said. "It allows us to have backup equipment as well, which is nice over here since we have to fix everything ourselves because techs don't come out here."
Bass said it takes a year to fully train someone to do his job, so he plans to stick around JBB, even as troops pull out. VT Aepco, the contracted AOAP company at the base, places no time constraints on its employees' stay, Bass said.
"I keep saying I'm going to go home just as soon as I can get a replacement trained, but I get somebody trained and then they go home," he said. "Somebody's got to do the job."
Roughly two years ago, the government contracted the labs with VT Aepco for a set number of labs in theater, but revamped the contract when it renewed in late 2008 to allow for a reduction or increase in the number of labs based on need, Bass said.
Technician Jamie I. White, from Kingstreet, S.C., said he enjoys his job, but he says the JBB lab's workload is heavy with only four technicians.
"The first couple days, it's kind of a shell shock," he said. "You come in here working 12-hour days and it's seven days a week. It kind of blows your mind, but once you've been here for a while and settle into a routine, it's really kind of interesting."
This article was written by the United States Army and first appeared on www.army.mil, its official home page.