CAMP TAJI, Iraq -Helicopter maintenance teams of the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade's 2-149th General Support Aviation Battalion recently benefited from the Army's new phase maintenance program for UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. The new phase program increases the phase maintenance interval from 360 hours to 480 hours, which will immediately add up to 120 flight hours for many aircraft. The extra flight time between phase maintenance inspections will improve the brigade-wide work flow.

Soldiers of Company D, 2-149th GSAB, performed their first HH-60M Black Hawk 480-hour phase maintenance on August 5, 2017, at Taji Military Complex, Iraq.

"We have done five phases at this location so far and this is the first one where they included an enhanced schedule maintenance check," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Andrew Wickland, D Co.'s production control officer.

This new program provides commanders with increased bank time and available flight hours for missions, said Wickland.

Building the company's phase team required consolidation of Army National Guard Soldiers from Wisconsin, Texas and Puerto Rico, who met for the first time during their mobilization period at Fort Hood, Texas in January.

"We first had to find out what skill sets everyone had, then who would be placed where based on strengths and weaknesses in the three locations we support in Iraq," said D Co.'s 1st Sgt. Mario Orta. "Each team needed to be balanced in their abilities and that took a lot of work."

There were several logistical challenges that had to be overcome to operate a well-run phase team, especially due to the fact that maintenance capabilities were split between Kuwait and Iraq.

"We had to learn early to ensure not only do we take apart the aircraft as soon as it arrives but we inspect each and every part so that if it needs to be replaced, or an additional part needs to be ordered, we are able to get those orders in as early as possible," said Wickland. "This cuts down on the wait time for parts when it's time to put it back together."

The D Company maintainers had to learn how to operate as an independent, fully functional phase-maintenance team. In the Army National Guard, most Soldiers normally work out of an armory where Class IX Air parts and calibrated tools are readily available. Back home they would have support from the Armory that they work out of, said Orta.

Here in Iraq and Kuwait, D Company must order parts and constantly follow-up on the shipping process. They must also replace many broken and missing tools in theater-provided equipment (TPE) sets. Tools requiring calibration must be shipped to a calibration lab through a process that takes approximately two weeks to complete. On past deployments, civilian contractors performed much of the maintenance, but the aviation maintenance contractor presence in Iraq is minimal. The D Company maintainers are doing most of the work themselves.

"My advice to those units back home coming up on rotation is to get your maintainers working on those aircraft prior to coming in country," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Raul Torres Aviation Maintenance officer for the 2-149 GSAB. "While we know what we are doing, resources aren't as plentiful."

D Co., 2-149th GSAB is not entirely alone. Company B, 449th Aviation Support Battalion is also performing phase maintenance in Kuwait and providing shops support to D Co., 2-149th GSAB in Iraq and Kuwait. Together, these hard-working maintainers generate the combat power for 29th CAB to perform their critical missions in Operation Spartan Shield in Kuwait and Operation Inherent Resolve.