By Michael Stepien, Army Field Support Battalion-Afghanistan, 401st AFSBMarch 19, 2014
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (Mar. 20, 2014) -- Soldiers in Afghanistan rely heavily upon multiple types of aircraft to provide ground combat support and sustain them in the field.
Apaches Black Hawk, and Chinook helicopters play different rolls, from providing close air support for dismounted Soldiers, to resupplying small units at patrol bases in the most remote, austere locations. Due to their vital role in ensuring the safety of war-fighters, it is imperative they remain operational so they can complete their missions when required.
However, all aircraft require regular maintenance, and being located in a combat zone subjects them to additional hazards.
Maintenance units are organic to Combat Aviation Brigades, or CABs, and they are able to conduct routine inspections at required aircraft intervals. However, issues arise during deployments, such as part unavailability and battle-damaged equipment.
Fortunately, when complex situations requiring expert assistance occur, Logistics Assistance Representative, or LARs, from Army Field Support Battalion-Afghanistan, 401st Army Field Support Brigade are onsite with solutions.
Steve Orona's background in aircraft maintenance makes him the ideal LAR for aviation. Back in the States, Orona is based at Corpus Christi with the Army Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command, where he instructs students on the functions and theory of the Chinook, Black Hawk and Apache engines.
Prior to his career as an Army civilian, Orona was a chief warrant officer with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. His current position as a LAR with the AFSBn-Afghanistan, allows him to draw upon his extensive experience in the field, providing unique solutions to keep aircraft in the air.
At Bagram Airfield, Orona supports the 101st Airborne Division CAB, where the responsibility placed upon the Soldiers in the maintenance battalion is tremendous. Junior enlisted Soldiers work on all aspects of the aircraft, drawing upon intense training from advanced individual training, and utilizing skills taught by their non-commissioned officers and the AFSBn-Afghanistan LARs.
These Soldiers are meticulous with their work, because precision is required for these complex engines, rotors, and various additional parts to operate effectively.
When helicopters reach certain flying-time intervals, they are required to receive a preventative maintenance check. This entails removing critical parts from the aircraft and inspecting them for potential degradation. Because these Soldiers are so detailed with their work, they are able to identify minor cracks in the aircraft that have the potential to lead to major problems.
If an issue is identified that could lead to trouble in the future and the Soldiers are unable to immediately repair, they notify the LAR, who is tasked with find a solution.
Sometimes this includes the LAR making phone calls to different locations around the world, trying to locate a hard-to-find part from various resources. Other times, the LAR will conduct an analysis that could prevent the government from having to buy a new part. Not only does that save taxpayer money, but it also saves time and keeps the aircraft operational and mission ready.
There are two major concerns when aircraft need to be repaired in theater. First, the cost of replacement parts is expensive. The Chinook engine costs close to a million dollars, and while the cost of parts varies, they are usually well into the thousand-dollar range.
But more important than cost, these aircraft must be mission capable and ready to fly. Having a LAR gives the units a critical capability because they can provide maintenance solutions that previously did not exist.
As the "Screaming Eagles" continue their vital mission in the air, their Soldiers, in conjunction with the support from members of the AFSBn-Afghanistan, remain steadfast in guaranteeing their aircraft can fly.
The drawdown of personnel and equipment from Afghanistan includes aircraft too, so as these helicopters are shipped out of theater, it becomes more and more critical to ensure the remaining aircraft can support Soldiers in the field.