Soldiers gather around a piece of equipment that looks like a front-loading washing machine -- only it's Army green and looks rugged enough to survive an explosion.

"What's the first thing you do?" a Soldier asks the others as he tests them on their knowledge of the device, which is actually a steam sterilizer used to disinfect medical instruments in field hospitals.

As biomedical equipment specialists, part of their job is to know everything they can about field medical equipment. On a deployment, patients' lives will depend on their ability to set up and maintain medical equipment used in field hospitals and battalion aid stations.

To help these Soldiers better prepare for success in operational environments, many of them train and gain hands-on experience from top experts at medical maintenance depots run by the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency, a subordinate organization of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.

USAMMA operates three stateside medical maintenance depots. Medical Maintenance Operations Division-Tobyhanna in Pennsylvania, where these Soldiers are learning about the field steam sterilizer and other equipment, is the Army's Center of Excellence for all Table of Organization and Equipment associated lab equipment. The depot also specializes in audiometer calibration, optical equipment, dental hand-piece rebuild and the Military Entrance Processing Station Direct Exchange program.

Spc. Braian Jardines, a biomedical equipment specialist assigned to the 51st Medical Logistics Company based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, said this is his second time traveling to USAMMA and that spending time with the experts at the medical maintenance depot has helped him be more efficient with complex medical equipment.

"You learn something new. You can be working on a piece of equipment for a long time, get stuck on something and they just have a real quick fix that you didn't know about. Then you can just do that instead of taking the long way around," said Jardines.

USAMMA's other depots include Medical Maintenance Division-Hill at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, the Center of Excellence for anesthesia, pulmonary and field medical equipment. The third depot is the Medical Maintenance Operations Division at the Defense Distribution Center San Joaquin in California that serves as the Center of Excellence for medical imaging equipment, special purpose test, measurement and diagnostics equipment and the Army Medicine X-ray acceptance program.

MMOD-Tobyhanna Shop Supervisor Isaac Newman said his depot typically hosts approximately 30 Soldiers every year that come to the depot from various units within the U.S. Army Forces Command. The Soldiers come for about 45 - 60 days each to not only train but also to augment depot employees who are deployed for National Guard missions or in support of the Forward Repair Activity-Medical. The FRA-M is a team of highly skilled medical maintenance experts from each depot who deploy around the world and work alongside unit-based biomedical equipment specialists to provide specialty-certified expertise that would be nearly impossible for every medical maintainer to retain.

"We build relationships with these Soldiers and when they are deployed, they know they can call us and we will talk them through most issues. We help resolve minor repairs, which also saves us from having to deploy a FRA-M team," Newman said. "Our goal is to build self-sufficiency and, ultimately, increase Army readiness."