FORT POLK, LA - "With 67 troops, we will support 5,000 Soldiers from 22 states, turning in 717 pieces of equipment they have been using in the box for three weeks," said Capt. Sarah Patterson, commander of the 170th Support Maintenance Company, Wichita, Kansas.
For their annual training, the 170th SMC was tasked with supporting the Joint Readiness Training Center's rotation 19-07, led by the Vermont National Guard, May 18- June 1. Vermont and 21 other states spent three to four weeks at Fort Polk, Louisiana, embedded in "the box' at the training grounds known as Tiger Land.
The Soldiers in the box were required to draw 90% of their equipment from the preposition site at Fort Polk, ranging from humvees to bulldozers.
The 170th arrived three days prior to the main body coming out of the box to get fully set up and prepared for any unforeseen issues. Initially, the mission was fairly straight forward: Go to Fort Polk and fix any piece of equipment that needed repair. Simple enough, until it wasn't.
The 170th SMC was on ground two days before the work would actually begin, allowing the Soldiers to have some bonding time mixed with planning on every level. They received their final mission brief just nine hours before the mission was to begin.
All of the equipment coming out of the box May 23, would be washed, fueled, inspected and then sent to the Soldiers of the 170th SMC to fix, if needed. Two motor pools kept the turn-in moving smoothly. Five-ton and smaller vehicles went to North Fort with South Fort receiving equipment larger than 5-ton.
Civilian contractors helped control the initial flow of equipment, ensuring each piece was clean, fueled and, if needed, repaired. Once a piece was flagged for repair it would be sent to the 170th Soldiers who would complete a diagnostic check of the vehicle. If parts were needed, they would be ordered through the contractors and brought to the site the same day.
Although the 170th was under the initial impression they had five days to complete all repairs, they soon learned they had to make 90% of equipment cleared as mission capable by close of business on the second day. With 90 degree heat and 90 percent humidity under partly cloudy skies and no cover, the conditions were less than perfect. The task seemed daunting, but the Soldiers were upbeat and sure that they could tackle the task.
The 170th had approximately 33 Soldiers on the ground at North Fort and 568 pieces of equipment headed their way. North Fort was led by the 170th SMC's Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Rupe, Wichita, and Staff Sgt. Ricardo Bonilla, Salina. Their job was to connect mechanics to the proper repair and to ensure the correct parts and tools were being pushed on to each piece of machinery.
"Marker lights and headlights are the most consistent repairs we are seeing with the worst so far being an axle seal on a humvee," said Bonilla.
The motor pool of North Fort was a fury of tan and camo vehicles moving around into lines, all orchestrated by purple-hatted contractors. The 170th mechanics would quickly find the faults and decide if a mechanic was needed or if the fault was an operator-level fix.
As the more difficult faults were found, a mechanic would quickly jump on the job and begin the work. Repairs began to backlog, more mechanics were brought in to help from 169th Combat Sustainment Support Brigade, Kansas; 277th Support Maintenance Company, Georgia National Guard; 186th Brigade Support Battalion, Connecticut National Guard; Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 293rd Regiment, Indiana National Guard; and the 486th Chemical Maintenance Company, Puerto Rico.
It was a perfect opportunity for a seasoned noncommissioned officer to guide young Soldiers so they are equipped for the future. Sgt. Paul Mains, 169th CSSB, took the time to not only work on trucks himself, but share his 20 plus years of experience.
"I am just glad I could come help another Kansas unit and be on dry ground working on trucks," said Mains.
Twenty-two 170th Soldiers and 14 Soldiers on-hand from the Vermont National Guard received 200 vehicles at the South Fort motor pool. As with North Fort, the South Fort Soldiers were optimistic and ready for the challenge.
"We will be successful," said Spc. Michael Fredrickson, a mechanic with the 170th SMC. "There is a lot more work to do here than we would have had a [Fort] Riley, but working on Atlas forklifts and MRAPS is exciting."
In the end, the 170th was able to safely repair 528 vehicles with over $1.25 million in savings for mission success.