A Marine truck mechanic received a medal typically awarded to more senior service members for saving the Defense Department more than $140 million through work he began as a teenage lance corporal.

Cpl. Gage Barbieri, now 21, received the Meritorious Service Medal on Friday from Col. Damon Burrows, commanding officer of 2nd Marine Division’s Headquarters Battalion. Barbieri is only the second Marine corporal to receive the Meritorious Service Medal since at least 2008, Burrows wrote on LinkedIn.

While serving as the Marine Corps’ representative to Oshkosh Defense as it revised its technical manuals for the joint light tactical vehicle, Barbieri pointed out flaws in the manuals, including one issue that could lead to rollovers.

Barbieri’s engineering acumen would save more than 900,000 person-hours of maintenance production time and more than $140 million throughout the entire life cycle of the platform, the Corps calculated.

“This was one hell of a catch by this young Marine,” said Jason Wolfe, Marine Corps production support manager to the vehicle’s program executive officer at Oshkosh, in a Marine Corps news release. “His work on this work package could possibly prevent loss of life.”

Barbieri, a native of Loxahatchee, Florida, always has been interested in the way things worked, he recounted Thursday in an interview with Marine Corps Times.

As a little kid, he would take apart his toys. Then, remembering where each screw had been, he would reassemble them, or try to build something that looked a little different.

Even then, he found it easy to retain information, Barbieri said.

“Once I’ve done it once, it’ll feel like I’ve done it a hundred times, and I can find the easiest way to do it,” he said.

At 14, he started drag racing through the International Hot Rod Association. He learned how to check over his car before getting onto the track.

But most of his background in mechanical engineering was theoretical knowledge — about aspects of systems like wiring and resistance — he gleaned from reading technical manuals, he said.

Having skipped fourth grade, Barbieri graduated from high school in 2019 at only 16. He spent two semesters studying mechanical engineering, first at Palm Beach State College in Florida and second at the University of California at Berkeley, but he didn’t love it.

Then a Marine recruiter approached him at a career fair.

“I’d tried everything else out, and I couldn’t find anything wrong with joining the Marine Corps,” Barbieri said.

He arrived at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, in June 2020. After his initial training, he attended the Automotive Maintenance Technician Basic Course, where he was an honor graduate, according to the news release.

Barbieri checked into Truck Company, Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in April 2021. When he arrived, the joint light tactical vehicles also were new to the unit.

“As they started breaking, there was more and more different aspects we had to fix and not a lot of people with the experience that had already worked on them,” Barbieri said.

When Barbieri was about six months into working at the unit, he faced a problem that didn’t have an easy solution: how to replace hoses that ran from the vehicles’ engine bay to the back end.

It took him two weeks, but he figured it out, he said.

After that, his leaders tasked him with repairing more and more vehicles with thorny problems. Barbieri repaired more than 75 trucks, keeping the battalions’ readiness above 90%, according to the news release.

His leaders took notice.

“He could diagnose issues that most Marines couldn’t find and was able to make the repairs that civilian engineers from external organizations couldn’t,” said Master Sgt. Kenneth Byxbee Jr., Barbieri’s former motor transport maintenance chief, in the news release.

Later in 2021, while Barbieri was still a 19-year-old lance corporal, his command selected him to spend months working with Oshkosh’s tech writing team in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on the technical manuals for the joint light tactical vehicle.

“Anytime I would find something that felt like it was out of order or would mess with the flow of things, we’d write that down,” Barbieri said.

Based on those issues, Barbieri and the rest of the team would pile into a conference room and suggest changes to the technical manuals.

One day, Barbieri noticed a problem with a manual’s instructions for replacing the steering column. Installing the replacement part that way would have stopped the steering wheel from moving, he said.

“If that happened while you were in a turn or on a highway, that could cause a rollover,” he said.

Oshkosh was receptive to what he had to say and worked with him to change the instructions, Barbieri said.

That wasn’t the only change Barbieri suggested.

Barbieri “stunned their engineers with his brilliance and change proposals for both fabrication of new vehicle components and for updating the electronic maintenance manuals that are now published and being fielded by the program office across all military branches of service,” Burrows wrote on LinkedIn.

On Friday, Barbieri received the Meritorious Service Medal, which is awarded to service members who distinguish themselves through “outstanding meritorious achievement or service.”

Barbieri celebrated later that day by ordering himself a buffalo-chicken pizza, he said.

He is set to leave the Marine Corps in June. The next step is college at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, where he plans to study mechanical engineering. He hopes of becoming a tech writer, who writes manuals himself, he said.

For now, though, he is an instructor at the course that teaches lance corporals leadership skills as they prepare for the promotion to corporal.

Barbieri said he loves the job.

“I just like getting in front of Marines and talking to them, making sure they know more than I did,” he said.

Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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