ALBANY, Ga. -- Four combat-veteran Marines were recognized Friday at Maintenance Center Albany and had the opportunity to meet the Marines and civilians who provide armored vehicles and equipment to forward deployed warfighters.
The four Camp LeJeune-based Marines -- Cpl. Chris Gisbrecht of Somerset, Pa.; Sgt. Justin Riggs of Appleton City, Mo.; Cpl. Matt Worley of Columbus, Ohio; and LCpl. William Chapman of Alleghany, Va. -- were given a tour of the MCA facility and had lunch with some of the base workers.
Of particular interest to the group was the reworking on the LAV (light armored vehicles) at the MCA.
"When the vehicles come in from the fleet to be reworked we are working on an 80-day time frame," LAV Supervisor Robert Graham, who has been with MCA for the past 17 years said. "We clean it, blast it and take it down to every nut and bolt, put it back together and send it out the door."
The latest device used to protect the Marines is additional light-weight armor that has been installed in the vehicles for the past year.
"The Marines in the field came up with an armor upgrade, metal plates," Graham said. "We sent the design up to a company in Canada and they came up with a Kevlar design that we began putting into the vehicles."
Chapman thinks the armor upgrade probably saved his life two years ago in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.
"I was the driver of a LAV in the Marjah offensive and an IED (improvised explosive device) went off directly under me," Chapman, 20, recalled. "I don't remember the explosion, but I woke up in the driver's hole and tried to climb out of the vehicle, but the gun turret was bent and was blocking the hatch.
"So I waited for help to get out. We were in a 40 to 45 minute fire fight, which didn't help, but they eventually got me out."
Chapman suffered a fractured tibia, a fractured rib, a broken leg, second degree burns and lost his spleen -- but he was alive.
"I think that extra armor put in by these guys (at MCA) saved my life," Chapman said.
Extra armor isn't all the tweaks Graham and his LAV crew has done to give the eight-wheeled vehicles some extra kick.
"We've beefed up the engine, boosted the suspension and pushed the top speed up to 55 mph," Graham said.
"It drives just like a car, no sway at all," Gisbrecht said, smiling. "It's really fun to drive. Imagine driving 55 mph through sand while firing weapons."
MCA commanding officer Col. Terry Reid said the point of the visit was to allow the Marines to meet the people who are working for them and for the civilian Marines to meet the men whose lives they are working to save.
"You see that sign there over the entrance, the one that reads 'What YOU do is IMPORTANT. Every day a MARINE'S LIFE will depend on it!' " Reid said, pointing toward the MCA entrance. "Well, that's more than just a motto here at MCA, it's the reason we exist. We wanted to share this experience and put a face on it for the Marines and our civilian-Marines.
"All four of these guys are combat veterans, and they are heroes. We wanted to give them a good ol' dose of Albany hospitality."