By Staff Sgt. Isolda ReyesJuly 29, 2017
CAMP TAJI MILITARY COMPLEX, Iraq - When the call went out for more firepower to support the Iraqi security forces in operations against ISIS, it was answered by the AH-64E Apache "Guardian" helicopters of 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment.
Maintenance became a top priority to keep the Apache in the fight as the battle for Mosul began. As a result, the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade developed an additional AH-64E phase maintenance team of Soldiers from the National Guard to augment the active Army AH-64E maintainers in Iraq.
"If you [don't have] aviation assets, you are in trouble across the board in every aspect," said Master Sgt. Scott Skellenger, the phase team noncommissioned officer in charge from the 1107th Theater Aviation Sustainment Maintenance Group (TASMG). "Parts, material, ammo - everything stops if we aren't flying."
Soldiers of the Texas Army National Guard's 449th Aviation Support Battalion, organized under the 29th CAB, and the 1107th TASMG from the Missouri National Guard, assembled at Taji Military Complex, Iraq to augment the 4th Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt.'s phase maintenance capability on the new AH-64E Apache Guardian. A few of the Soldiers from the 449th ASB received some AH-64E maintenance training at Fort Hood during 29th CAB's mobilization under First Army- Division West, but the Soldiers' first practical experience did not happen until they arrived in Iraq.
"These guys didn't work together prior to this assignment," said Skellenger. "While we have worked on the AH-64D model Apaches in Texas, the National Guard hasn't been issued the AH-64E models yet."
"We worked with the 4th Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt.'s maintainers to learn the differences of the two models, which manuals to look at and lessons learned so that we could make this happen," Skellenger said. "These guys learned fast."
With the assistance of the 4th Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt., the maintainers were able to quickly and methodically absorb the updated material requirements and start the 500-hour phase cycle on its first AH-64E during which they were able to discover and correct issues that hadn't been found before.
"This team devised a plan based on time management, so they would take the first two days to depopulate the helicopter and identify the parts that need to be replaced early in the process which helps maximize time needed to order parts," said Lt. Col. Robert Guevara, the commander of the 449th Aviation Support Battalion. "This in turn cut down on the time spent waiting for necessary parts when it's time to put it back together."
This ad hoc team of 14 maintainers was able to successfully return one Apache to the fight within the prescribed amount of time that typically a larger, full-fledged team would complete.
"Since we moved the phase team to Taji, we were able to cut down on time between phases by 1-2 weeks," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Shawn Middleton, 4th Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt.'s battalion aviation maintenance officer. "The 449th maintainers helped to solve another problem."
The AH-64E phase team in Taji won't see their work slow down when the 4th Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regiment departs Iraq early this fall. The Soldiers from 449th ASB and 1107th TASG will continue doing phase maintenance for 2nd Sqdn, 17th Cav. Regt. through the end of the year.
The 29th CAB is an Army National Guard brigade supporting Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Spartan Shield under USARCENT by providing aviation assets, offensive strike capability, reconnaissance and logistical support. CJTF-OIR is the Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.