Elite force takes fix to fight, aids warfighters around world
April 21, 2010
- Tobyhanna's network of electronics repair stretches around the globe to more than 50 Forward Repair Activity locations.
- FRAs can operate from the frontlines or a unit's home station.
- The FRA Division maintains an almost perfect record for quality service based on hundreds of customers surveys submitted each year.
TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, Pa. -- Warfighters rely on an elite team of professionals who take the fix to the fight repairing battle-damaged equipment in the combat zone.
Tobyhanna's network of electronics repair stretches around the globe to more than 50 Forward Repair Activity (FRA) locations. Seventy-five percent of that workload is performed by hundreds of C3/Avionics Directorate employees assigned to the FRA Division's four branches.
The FRA concept replaced an outdated repair process that was complex, time consuming and costly. Working alongside servicemembers, on-site technicians are also able to show operators how to use the equipment as well as field it.
"Instead of shipping critical equipment to the depot for repair, our personnel can perform on- site repairs with a much quicker turnaround time," said George Bellas, director of the C3/Avionics Directorate. "Our employees are the best at what they do. They maintain the highest standards of electronics repair supporting warfighters in the states and overseas."
FRAs can operate from the frontlines or a unit's home station. Charged with the same overall mission as C3/Avionics-repairing and overhauling electronics equipment-they are located in 18 states and several locations in Europe and Southwest Asia.
Forward repair employees are capable of fixing electronics equipment to a certain level of repair. Anything above that is accomplished at the depot. In some cases repairs may include component level work, but most involve line replaceable units (LRUs) or circuit cards. Items that are under contract support are pulled for a direct exchange swap.
Directorate supported systems include Standard Army Management Information Systems (STAMIS), Air Defense/Air Management (ADAM) Cell equipment, Army Airborne Command and Control System (A2C2S), Common Ground Station (CGS), Automated Data Processing Equipment (ADPE), Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) and Command Post System & Integration (CPS&I).
FRA employees perform similar tasks on a multitude of systems.
In Iraq, technicians help improve battlefield communications by transforming Army helicopters into high-tech command and control platforms by installing the A2C2S on select UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
In Fort Hood, employees repair more than 60 pieces of electronics or computer equipment each week. The specialists repair peripheral items such as printers and laptop computers the military uses, including original equipment manufacturer (OEM) warranty support for commercial companies.
And in Fort Carson, employees participate in field exercises with Soldiers to provide over-the-shoulder training and maintenance support for systems such as the Tactical Airspace Integration System, which is a mobile communications and digitized battlefield automated system for airspace management.
The FRA Division maintains an almost perfect record for quality service based on hundreds of customers surveys submitted each year. The surveys provide the customer with an opportunity to offer comments regarding work accomplished by an individual or team.
"We received more than 300 customer survey responses last year and only three were negative," said Alan Bucklaw, division chief. "There are a lot of loyal people out there; some who have dedicated their entire life to the military."
A unit at Fort Bragg, N.C., offered kudos to the support one FSR provided during a mission readiness exercise last year.
"Douglas Farnsworth was beyond the best FSR (field service representative) we have ever had [to work with] since I've been in an ADAM Cell (almost 3 years), said Sgt. Keegan Benson. "He was extremely knowledgeable. He took time to patiently work with our new operator, even teaching him many aspects of the system. His personality, technical knowledge and work habits are a huge credit to himself and to your company."
One of the division's TOC Reset teams received a similar customer comment following a job at Fort Stewart, Ga., in September.
"The most professional team I've worked with," said Wayne Holland.
It's been nearly 20 years since the first forward-deployed repair activity was established at Fort Hood, Texas. Over the years, the depot's presence has expanded to meet the needs of the Armed Forces.
In the mid 1990s, FRAs were located in three countries and two Army installations. Years later the depot's support of the Global War on Terrorism and Operation Iraqi Freedom resulted in a 40 percent workload increase, with more than 207,000 separate pieces of equipment repaired by Tobyhanna.
"Initially, FRAs were started to provide computer repair for STAMIS-basic computers," Bucklaw said. "The mission has grown considerably since then based on requirements to support other systems."
The division's largest workload today is CPS&I (formerly known as TOCs (Tactical Operations Center)), according to Bucklaw.
Last year, a biometrics system requirement was added to the FRAs workload when a team was tasked to provide training, troubleshooting and upgrade for the Handheld Interagency Identification Detection Equipment (HIIDE) program. The portable devices combine iris, fingerprint and face biometrics to help determine an individual's identity.
Future endeavors include adding the next generation CGS to the schedule, he said.
The C3/Avionics Directorate manages an all-volunteer force of maintenance technicians, site chiefs, regional support center managers and field service representatives. Personnel with an electronics background and sense of adventure are recruited to fill myriad FRA positions posted worldwide.
"If a person has a strong electronics background, they'll be able to get through the specialized training that's provided for each individual system [the depot supports]," Bucklaw said. People applying for the FSR positions will attend a 15-week, in-residence training course that not only enhances their skills, but familiarizes them with Tobyhanna's methods, such as reach back capability. The FSR, assigned to a unit, deploys with the unit to ensure vital equipment is operational.
Walk-in repair service is one of the perks the FRA program offers customers within each area of responsibility.
"Having Tobyhanna here [Iraq] is a definite plus to the success of our mission," said David Bierwirth. "Thanks for making my job easier and making me look good. The extremely quick turn around and work that is done correctly the first time is great."
Communication is vital to the success of the FRA program. Tobyhanna maintains an FRA home page on the AKO (Army Knowledge Online) site and uses an extensive email distribution system to relay information to all geographically separated units.
In addition, FRA chiefs return here each year for a conference where they attend briefings, complete necessary training and discuss mission-related issues with their colleagues. During the conference, they also get a chance to discuss business with supporting elements and management.
"Our employees feel good about their jobs whether assigned to an FRA in the states or overseas," Bellas said.
"The work is exciting and the possibilities for change and growth are endless. The FRA concept will grow, because it is the right thing to do for the warfighter," Bellas said.
Tobyhanna Army Depot is the Defense Department's largest center for the repair, overhaul and fabrication of a wide variety of electronics systems and components, from tactical field radios to the ground terminals for the defense satellite communications network. Tobyhanna's missions support all branches of the Armed Forces.
About 5,600 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania.
Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army CECOM Life Cycle Management Command. Headquartered at Fort Monmouth, N.J., the command's mission is to research, develop, acquire, field and sustain communications, command, control computer, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors capabilities for the Armed Forces.