By Kevin Fleming, 401st Army Field Support BrigadeSeptember 5, 2019
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait -- Soldiers with the 401st Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait are key to ensuring the quality of weapons at Army Prepositioned Stocks-5.
The personnel here use painstakingly thorough processes to check every inch of every weapon before correcting even the smallest of imperfections.
"When we put a weapon in the warfighter's hands, we have to make sure 100% that weapon will be able to fight back," said Staff Sgt. Samuel Oteroreyes, weapons quality assurance, 401st Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait. "We definitely take no chances here."
Oteroreyes and Sgt. Brittany Deturo, weapons quality assurance, 401st AFSBn-Kuwait, are the Soldiers tasked with the final verification of weapons' readiness before each item is stored to wait for deploying forces. Their military occupational specialty is 91F (small arms/artillery repairer).
When an M2 .50-caliber machine gun is placed in front of Deturo, she has no hesitation in taking it down to its component parts.
"I look at every part of the weapon, inside and out," she said. "I'm checking the weapon's springs, rods, and that it's oiled correctly. I look at the bolt and barrel extension for cracks, burrs, and broken edges."
Deturo said the steps she takes with her inspections are standard for the Army, but what makes her work special is her routine level of detail. She often uses a wide range of small, calibrated tools to measure the ware of each piece.
"A simple burr can completely stop the weapon, or at least make it more difficult to use," she said. "These weapons are pretty indestructible, but we take no chances with the small things."
A burr is a small sliver of metal or a notch that could obstruct the pathway of a weapon's moving parts.
APS-5 holds a wide variety of modern military weapons, including the M2A1 machine gun, which requires special tracking serial numbers. Deturo and Oteroreyes inspect everything from the M240C machine gun to the M242 Bradley Fighting Vehicle main gun.
Deturo is a deployed member of the 776 Support Maintenance Company of the Tennessee National Guard. In her civilian job stateside, she also repairs small arms for the Army.
"This deployment has enabled me to do my job at a place where I know it really matters," she said. "It has also enabled me to spread my knowledge to other Soldiers so they can develop as well."
Deturo and Oteroreyes each have seven years of experience with military weapons quality assurance operations, having verified thousands of weapons during their time.
Oteroreyes is qualified for validating work on both small arms and artillery weapons. He said he enjoys the work because of its simple efficiency and because he knows it matters.
"I can't memorize words, but give me anything, and I can take it apart and put it together again," he said.
Deturo and Oteroreyes are the last people to inspect the small arms weapons stockpiled at APS-5 before they are approved for storage, but their job is not actually to repair the weapons. That's the job of a full crew of civilian contractors who use a multi-staged process designed for efficiency, quality and accountability.
"From the moment a weapon is turned in, it goes through multiple layers of cleaning, repair, and inspection," said Oteroreyes. "Sometimes there are additional steps if something more complicated is wrong.
"The process can get pretty involved, but usually things are fairly straightforward here," he continued. "That's because the process here works."
First, a contractor disassembles, inspects, and cleans the weapon, annotating any repairs that need to be done.
If the contractor finds a problem, quality assurance Soldiers -- who are also certified as contracting officer's representatives (CORs) -- check to validate the problem, and if necessary, parts are ordered.
Once the parts arrive, the contractor makes the repair. Then the contractors' own quality control personnel reassemble the weapon, checking each part as they go.
Finally, the quality assurance Soldiers again disassemble and reassemble the weapon for verification of the contractors' work.
Oteroreyes said that as a COR, his job is to hold the contractor accountable to ensure government funds are used appropriately. He also said he has confidence in the team's work because they have a shared sense of responsibility.
"We know we have to give this equipment to sons and daughters," he said. "They are why everyone in our office works so hard to make sure all the equipment here is fully mission-capable."
Accountability doesn't stop there, however. Oteroreyes said that even after a weapon is issued, its service records allow investigators to track it all the way back down to who did the maintenance on that item.
And then there's always the Soldier who gets issued the item.
"The Soldier will ultimately know because they check their equipment too," he said. "They like to talk a lot, and they will call you out -- that's for sure.
"I feel pride when Soldiers come back from the range and they say the weapons are ready and have no issues."
Oteroreyes also does periodic checks on the contractors' workspace, looking for safety hazards and making sure everyone is using the correct tools for their work.
"Part of my job is to make sure the [technical manual] for the weapon being worked on is open on every desk," he said. "The TM defines the standard we are looking for, because it lays out every part of each piece of equipment and how it all works together."
Oteroreyes said the people who work on the weapons are experienced and know the TM well, but they still check the TM because updates and modernization efforts are constantly underway, even for older guns.
"Weapons can get updated multiple times per year," he said. "A lot of that has to do with changes in where parts are manufactured, but some of it is to improve the complete functioning of the weapon."
As a Soldier and a parent, Oteroreyes said he gets his focus from a strong sense of duty.
"I feel a deep sense of responsibility for these weapons systems," he said. "We are the last line before that weapon gets in the hands of someone possibly headed to combat.
"When something looks wrong, we don't just let it go by."
Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 is one of several massive stockpiles of military equipment located globally that are designed to speed the process of getting fast-deploying warfighters to the battlefield.