Robert Vachon, an evaluator for the Army Award for Maintenance Excellence, inspects 277th Aviation Support Battalion's standard operating procedures for vehicle dispatches as Sgt. 1st Class Lorenzo Hedrington and 1st Lt. Juan Cepeda stand by for the assessment.

FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Each year, hundreds of units from across the Army, Reserve and National Guard compete for the Army's top award for superior maintenance operations, the Army Award for Maintenance. This year, one of the five finalists for the AAME is Headquarters Support Company, 277th Aviation Support Battalion, Task Force Mountain Eagle, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.

AAME inspectors from the Department of the Army visited 277th ASB on Feb. 28, as a final stage in identifying the Army's top maintenance operations.

The AAME, established in 1982, serves to improve readiness, sustain efficiency, reduce waste and recognize outstanding maintenance accomplishments. It contains three competition categories based upon unit size: small, medium and large. The 277th ASB is a finalist in the Army's medium category.

This is not 277th ASB's first time competing for the prestigious AAME. The Mountain Eagle Battalion was a U.S. Army Forces Command semifinalist in 2009.

There are two phases to winning the AAME: the narrative phase and the on-site visit by the inspector team.

"It's really the narrative phase that gets a unit to the AAME fight," said Maj. KeKe Langkamp, 277th ASB executive officer. "The team did an exceptional job capturing the blood, sweat and tears the 277th ASB pours into its maintenance program. It was really a well-written narrative by Maj. Joseph Young, former battalion executive officer. This narrative is what is going to take 277th ASB to the Department of Defense competition."

"However, it's the great things that the Soldiers did that really got us this far; extraordinary things like setting up the motor pool's large area maintenance shelter, establishing the only battery refurbishment operation in Afghan- istan, which was acknowledged by Joint Sustainment Command-Afghanistan and U.S. Forces - Af-ghanistan as a best practice, having an aviation nozzle rebuild capability, welders that were aviation certified, and 'first-up' ground vehicle recovery operations for Bagram," said Lt. Col. Albert H. Stiller, 277th ASB commander.

The second phase of the AAME is the on-site inspection. Inspectors examined maintenance areas for readiness, maintenance management, training, preventive maintenance checks and services, leadership involvement, standard operating procedures and unit verification.

During the inspection, 277th ASB received 12 green and two amber ratings. Inspectors said they were very impressed with the unit's motivation to prepare for this inspection -- especially having just redeployed from Operation Enduring Freedom in mid-October.

"The entire team has worked incredibly hard to get us to where we are today," said 1st Lt. Juan Cep-eda, maintenance control officer for 277th ASB. "We have a strong possibility of winning the AAME."

"The inspectors commended us for our maintenance SOP," said Sgt. 1st Class Troy Price, 277th ASB maintenance motor sergeant. "They requested a copy of it, because they want to push it down to other ASBs for use with their ground maintenance program."

Since the award is concerned with a unit as a whole, every 277th Soldier positively impacted the AAME.

"It's a team effort," Stiller said. "Everybody worked together as a team and did their part. I am very proud of my Soldiers. Part of that team effort included the division G-4 and command maintenance evaluation teams that work with all Fort Drum units to ensure that Army regulations, policies and local SOPs are on hand, understood and are being used.

"In the end, we have already won, because this inspection forced us to get our policies and procedures in place immediately upon redeployment," he added.

AAME winners will be announced in April. If 277th ASB should win, the unit would then compete against the other military branches for the prestigious Secretary of Defense Phoenix Award.

Chanthamalinh serves with 277th Aviation Support Battalion, Task Force Mountain Eagle.

Page last updated Thu March 15th, 2012 at 09:56