Dig Baton Rouge

Working the Pit

By Jonathan B. Trejo

Hundred-degree temperatures, life or death stress, and long hours; these are all part of a normal day in the life of a Machinist’s Mate (MM).

They call their working area “The Pit,” and that’s really what it is – a big, hot two-level space with a giant boiler surrounded by pipes and valves all under pressure with the risk of a steam leak at any moment all at the bottom of the ship.

Day after day aboard Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), these dedicated Sailors work long hours in extreme conditions to keep the ship mission ready.

There are two different work days, said Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Brett Lee, a Baton Rouge native aboard Iwo Jima. Steaming days consist of standing watch from six to six, helping with work lists and taking readings. Non-steaming workdays consist of helping with work lists and doing maintenance.

Steaming is his favorite part of his job, said Lee. “Without me I feel the mission cannot be completed. I stand boiler technician upper level which consists of making water for the boiler and to provide throughout the ship for drinking and showering.”

Without the MMs of the Iwo Jima, the ship would not be prepared for the pre-deployment exercises not to mention the six to ten-month deployments it undergoes.

The reason it is back in mission readiness is a testament to their hard work and dedication.

“Our job down here is very important to the mission,” said Lee. “If we don’t have the plant stable the ship doesn’t move, we can’t go pickup Marines, and we can’t handle the business we need to handle.”

MMs perform in life or death situations and voluntarily put themselves in that position for the good of the ship. They do this behind the scenes of everything else and some may never know the dangers they are presented with.

“The scariest experience I’ve had would be when the packing blew out of a 600 [PSI] main steam [primary line providing steam to the main engine],” said Lee. “The 600 main steam is very dangerous; it can cook you from the inside out.”

“If we have a steam leak down here it could engulf the space in three seconds, and it’s 600 pounds per square inch steam and roughly 900 degrees,” said Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Brad Quackenbush, a Mich. native aboard Iwo Jima. “It’s really important that we train our people and they understand the importance of what they’re doing cause it does get repetitive down here but it’s repetitive for a reason.”

Even after all they deal with on a regular basis, they still manage to remember what it is that they are really doing and impacting. They think about everyone else over themselves.

“What I always hear is, ‘What’s your rate, what do you do?’” said Quackenbush. “You say, ‘Oh I work in the pit.’ Everybody immediately thinks long hours and it’s hot; that is the crappy end of it, but the satisfaction of working down here is knowing that everything you’re doing is important for everybody else even though we’re way down in the bottom.”

USS Iwo Jima is conducting Amphibious Ready Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercise with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.  For further information on the USS Iwo Jima, please follow us on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/USSIwoJimaLHD7.

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