• Sgt. 1st Class Paul Gentry (middle), senior UAS maintainer, instructs Staff Sgts. Christopher Duhe and Chris Bunten on UAS maintenance during the 15E course at the USAACE NCOA.

    New UAS maintainer course launches

    Sgt. 1st Class Paul Gentry (middle), senior UAS maintainer, instructs Staff Sgts. Christopher Duhe and Chris Bunten on UAS maintenance during the 15E course at the USAACE NCOA.

  • Staff Sgt. Eric Hauser (middle), small group leader, instructs Staff Sgts. Shawn Frazzini and Joseph Guerrero on UAS maintenance during the 15E course at the USAACE NCOA.

    New UAS maintainer course launches

    Staff Sgt. Eric Hauser (middle), small group leader, instructs Staff Sgts. Shawn Frazzini and Joseph Guerrero on UAS maintenance during the 15E course at the USAACE NCOA.

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Feb. 9, 2012) -- At first glance, the 15E Unmanned Aircraft Systems Maintainer Advanced and Senior Leadership Course at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence Noncommissioned Officer Academy looks and feels like a well-oiled Army training machine honed over the years by experienced Soldiers.

And that glance proves true, except for the "honed over the years" part.

In truth, the 15 students now at about the midway point are the first Soldiers to experience the course that will take them to the leadership levels of UAS maintenance, and the road to creating this initial class was a hectic six-month journey on a barren and bumpy road at over 100 mph, said Sgt. Maj. Richard A. Mitchell, commandant of the academy.

"You've heard the terminology 'building the plane in flight?' That's exactly what we did because we really had no clear idea where to even start," Mitchell said.

While members of the cadre at the academy knew they needed to create the course to start teaching students in fiscal year 2013, they were caught by surprise when needs in the field to support full-spectrum Combat Aviation Brigades suddenly accelerated that timeline to six months to create the course from scratch, the commandant added.

No curriculum, no equipment, no classroom, no area to work on UAS or even UAS to work on, no computers, no desks or workbenches, no computers, etc., just a task. And a lot of talented NCOs driven to go above and beyond their normal duties to make happen what the Army needed, Mitchell said.

The key players on creating the eight-week course were 1st Sgt. Jeff Herzog, outgoing deputy commandant; 1st Sgt. Daniel Annicelli, incoming deputy commandant; Sgt. 1st Class Adam Mauro, senior small group leader; Sgt. 1st Class Paul Gentry, senior UAS maintainer; Sgt. 1st Class Steven Marzan from the National Guard; and Staff Sgt. Eric Hauser, small group leader, Mitchell said.

"When we got the mission to make this happen a year early, it hit really, really hard," he said. "My goal for the first class was to have 75-80 percent product, and I think we have a 90 percent product. None of this could've taken place without help from G3, Project Manger's Office-UAS, the people at Fort Huachuca (Ariz.), the U.S. Army Aviation Logistics School -- they all came together as a focal group, and put all the pieces and parts together to make this happen.

"As commandant, I am super, super proud of what a group of NCOs did for our branch and for our Army with very little outside help and very little money -- just a task and a mission from higher to figure it out, and they did," Mitchell added.

Mitchell wasn't the only one impressed -- Army Aviation Branch Command Sgt. Maj. Tod L. Glidewell also praised the end result.

"I think it's an awesome accomplishment," he said. "It shows you what a group of NCOs can do when they come together and work towards a common goal to truly affect change in the future for the good of our Army and our Soldiers."

And they did it while other classes were going and normal duties had to be accomplished, Herzog said, adding that the academy had yet to get a 15E subject matter expert on board, so that was the first request that was sent out.

Then Herzog and Mauro went out to Huachuca to talk with the 10-level course trainers, and after two visits and a lot of brainstorming, teleconferencing and emails to get an initial idea of what needed to be taught in the course.

"Then we needed to get into the facilities and resourcing piece, which was the second step," Herzog said. "Once we had an idea of what they were doing out there and what we needed to do here, we came up with some courses of action and the commandant proposed it to USAACE and between the segeant major and the chain of command, we came up with what you see here: two classroom inserts, a Classroom 21 and office space as temporary solution, as well as hangar space."

The hangar space was found in Yano Hall in a section that was previously used for AH-64 Apache maintenance.

"In six months, it went from being nothing but AH64s and a maintenance mess to completely sterile, cleaned and ready to train 15Es," Herzog added, noting that NCOA students from the other 11 military occupational specialties the academy teaches also chipped in to work on putting together the classrooms, furniture, workbenches and more.

Once Gentry, Hauser and Marzan were on board as the subject matter experts, the coursework development took off in earnest, with the 10-level starting point.

"We created something bigger, better, more challenging," Gentry said. "We want the student to at times think outside the box. This is still a relatively new career field and there are a lot of civilian corporations involved, but eventually the Soldier will be in charge of everything as far as maintenance. And Soldiers need to start thinking outside of the box because that day is coming rapidly.

"That is what we're trying to do with this course -- facilitate these Soldiers to think beyond the shell, above the level of what the standard chisel-faced Soldier might be trained to be in basic training. They need to think beyond the manuals, because the manuals are still being written -- this field is always building, always changing, always morphing into something better and we want our students to do the same," he added.

One of those students, Staff Sgt. Joseph Guerrero from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, gives two thumbs up for the cadre's efforts.

"Overall this is an awesome experience and I'm glad I was offered the opportunity to get into this field," said the former armament and electrician and avionics maintainer on the OH-58 Kiowa who's been in UAS maintenance since 2008. "Coming to the NCOA and being part of the first 15E course, I feel privileged to be able to provide input that will benefit these classes for those who follow us.

"The instructor blocks are very helpful -- there's stuff in there I did not know anything about, especially when it comes to different leadership points," he added, "The MOS-specific portion, dealing with the regulations and manuals can be overwhelming at times, but I'm taking it in and I feel honored to be a part of it. It is helping me to become a better leader so when I leave here I can implement all I've learned with the other Soldiers in my unit."

And that is what Gentry likes to hear.

"Our biggest mission is getting information out to the students and ensuring that they retain it and take it to the forefront, the battlefield," Gentry said. "It's great that we can teach this stuff, but if they can't take it with them, retain it, take it back to their units, then maybe we need to alter how we train.

"So far, from what we've seen, the students are enjoying it, they have been giving us positive feedback and we use their feedback to enhance our course to make it even better," he added.

The class graduates March 2 at 10:30 a.m. at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum, Mitchell said, and it is something that the students, of course, look forward to, but also the cadre.

"I'm very proud of this. It is by far my greatest achievement," Gentry said. "I can't put into words how proud I am of being selected to do this. It's amazing, and then to see everything come together with our first class so fluidly, it makes us feel good and a great sense of worth."

Page last updated Thu February 9th, 2012 at 09:38