MATES personnel refurbish Fort Pickett tracked vehicles

 Soldiers assigned to Fort Pickett’s Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site, or MATES, reinstall two tracked vehicles Jan. 19, 2016, after completing exterior refurbishments on the vehicles. Both vehicles, originally used by the U.S. Army during the Vietnam and Korean Wars, have been on continuous display along Fort Pickett’s Military Road for approximately 20 years. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)


Soldiers assigned to Fort Pickett’s Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site, or MATES, reinstall two tracked vehicles Jan. 19, 2016, after completing exterior refurbishments on the vehicles. Both vehicles, originally used by the U.S. Army during the Vietnam and Korean Wars, have been on continuous display along Fort Pickett’s Military Road for approximately 20 years. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. – With temperatures hovering in the low 20s, Soldiers of Fort Pickett’s Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site, or MATES, bundled up and put two tracked vehicles back on display at Fort Pickett, Virginia, Jan. 19, 2016. The vehicles, an M42 Duster and an M84 Mortar Carrier, have long been on display at Fort Pickett, and had accumulated a thick coat of pinesap, bird droppings and graffiti over the years. Over a months-long process, MATES personnel cleaned, sandblasted and repainted the hulking vehicles in an effort to restore them to their original glory.

“When customers and the public come in and they see a tank on display it needs to be looking dress right dress,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Anthony Lewis, who oversaw the vehicle refurbishment and who serves as the allied trades supervisor at MATES. “We are the Army.”

The M84, according to Lewis, was used during the Vietnam War and the M42 was in service through both the Korean and Vietnam wars, through 1987.

Lewis explained that the refurbishment process started over the summer. He said the first few steps were administrative and included ensuring all the paperwork was done correctly and that proper funding, which included money to purchase paint and other unique supplies off the local economy, was secured.

Then it was time to move the vehicles, which they accomplished with an M88 Recovery Vehicle, one of the largest armored recovery vehicles currently in use by the United States Army.

Once they got the vehicles to MATES, the first stop was the wash rack for a thorough cleaning.

“They were full of pine tags, like 25 years of pine tags,” explained Sgt. Ellis G. Corley II, a technician at MATES who worked on the vehicles during the many stages of refurbishment. “We had to rake them out and there were bags and bags full of pine tags in the turret.”

Once they got the vehicles cleaned up, it was time to sand blast, which Corley said was a formidable task. “The sandblasting and power-washing stage was daunting,” he said. “It was like, ‘wow, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.’ You kind of dread it and it’s real tedious.”

It took days of sandblasting to get all the paint off the massive vehicles and then the Soldiers primed the vehicles, to ensure they don’t rust and then, finally, they started on the new paint job.

“Once we started painting you could finally see results. It was nice. You could sit back and see what you’d done,” Corley said.

Sgt. William R. Cox, a MATES technician who worked on the vehicles alongside Corley, said painting the vehicles wasn’t much different than the painting they do on other jobs. “It’s the same concept,” he said. “Metal is metal. You strip it down and you prep it and then you prime it and then you put your base coat on.”

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s really rewarding once you see the final result and you see people coming in and saying how good it looks,” Corley said.

Lewis said the experience was unique and gratifying for the young noncommissioned officers.

“These tanks are probably three times as old as they are,” he said, explaining that the Soldiers who completed the refurbishments had never worked on those vehicles before. “It’s been a learning experience for these Soldiers. They really enjoyed doing it and they get to see their work every time they ride by.”

“It’s something to take pride in,” Cox said of the completed job. “It was something historical to do and it was something that I can come on Pickett and look at and say that I did.”

Now that the first two vehicles are complete and back on display along Military Road, the Soldiers will move on to refurbishing the M60 Patton Main Battle Tank that usually sits outside Fort Pickett’s main gate.

“I was glad we had the opportunity to do this and I’m looking forward to finishing the M60 we have and hopefully that turns out just as well,” Cox said.

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Photos: MATES Soldiers complete tracked vehicle refurbishments