REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- There's one sure way to get customer feedback from those who use your systems in the field - bring them to your city of business, provide them with lots of information about product issues and upgrades, and introduce them to the managers who are responsible for providing the best support possible.

And that's what's been happening for the past three years at the Aviation Ground Support Equipment User Conference. Though this year's location changed to the Holiday Inn on University Drive, the conference still attracted Soldiers and civilian employees from throughout the Army who work on aviation maintenance and sustainment in the field.

"We want to get great feedback from you so that we can support you," Lt. Col. Russ Wygal, product manager for Aviation Ground Support Equipment, Aviation Systems, told attendees as the conference began. "We want to learn what's going on in the field. You are the voice of the field and we want your interaction."

That philosophy was echoed by Col. Tony Potts, project manager for Aviation Systems, as he told his audience that aviation systems are doing well in today's up-tempo wartime environment because of the highly trained Soldiers and civilians who work in ground support.

"We are in better shape today than we've ever been in ground support systems," he said. "This is about getting down to work. This is about hearing the voices from the field ... Tell us what you need and in two years or less it will be rolling on the field. That's how we can affect change."

Aviation Ground Support Equipment, Aviation Systems, is part of the Program Executive Office for Aviation. AGSE supports all systems managed by PEO for Aviation, including Chinook, Black Hawk, Apache, Kiowa and unmanned aircraft systems.

Potts said employees with AGSE and Aviation Systems are interested in how equipment is being used in the field and, particularly, in how equipment designed for one purpose may be used for other purposes. For example, his office did further investigation when comments came back from the field about the seemingly poor quality and small size of the tires on the Army's Standard Aircraft Towing System, which was designed to be used on flight lines to reposition mission aircraft and aviation ground support equipment.

"I visited Shindad (Shindad Airbase, Herat Province, Afghanistan) where Soldiers are still living in Quonset huts (a lightweight prefabricated structure of corrugated galvanized steel) and tents, and I found that SATS was being driven two and a half miles down gravel roads, and was being used as a people mover and a parts hauler," the colonel said.

"The reality is you (the Soldier users) are going to use equipment in ways we didn't design for them to be used because we didn't think of it."

While the tire requirement fit the original SATS mission, the tires were not meant for the rugged and long-term road use put on them by Soldiers in the field. Potts indicated that new missions for existing hardware along with their equipment requirements are often considered by product managers and support employees based on feedback from the field.

But he also said that Soldiers should not abuse equipment that has been provided for their mission. He mentioned the new tool boxes the Army provides its aviation ground crews. He noticed the condition of these tool boxes while in Afghanistan.

"I've seen them lying all over the place, all busted, with their wheels busted off and then I find out they are only on their fourth mission," he said.

"We pay way too much money to turn around and look at stuff laying on the floor busted. We've come a long way. But that doesn't mean we don't have a long way to go."
Potts also stressed feedback is critical at a time when the Department of Defense budget is at the "high water mark."

Nine years ago, that budget was $90 billion annually. Today, it is $247 billion annually. Potts predicted that the DoD budget will now begin to see a decline.

"Our opportunity to make major muscle changes is going to end soon," he said. "We need your feedback to make changes that will sustain us."

Brig. Gen. Tim Crosby, program executive officer for aviation, told conference attendees that aviation ground support has made the difference in keeping aviators flying the mission.

"You have the ability to influence our programs more than anything else has," he said. "You are the afterthoughts, the things that don't cost a lot of money. But you do things that maintain and sustain a myriad of aircraft."

He said the job can be especially difficult because ground support crews are called on to perform maintenance on systems made by different manufacturers and that are not interchangeable.

"It causes us to be very versatile," Crosby said. "But we are working on an aviation enterprise and we are looking at opportunities to reduce your burden."

PEO for Aviation has the largest portfolio of products than any other program executive office in the Army. It has a budget of more than $7 billion to manage and operate aviation systems.

"The 12 other PEOs don't come close to the significance and influence that we have," Crosby said. "But it's not a haves and have-nots situation. We have the resources that others want because of what we do every day. Ground support and ground command say leave aviation alone (when it comes to funding) because they know what Army aviation can do for them. Army aviation is a critical enabler on the battlefield."

Aviation ground support can mean the difference in the amount of hours an aviation system can fly, and in keeping the readiness rate at 90 percent or higher, Crosby said. And funds for fleet modernization, maintenance and sustainment are being provided because of aviation effectiveness in support of Soldiers on the battlefield, he said.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16