HAYS, Kan. – The Kansas Army National Guard’s Field Maintenance Shop 1 in Hays placed first at the National Guard Bureau in the Tables of Distribution and Allowances category for the 2020 Army Award for Maintenance Excellence after facing months of challenges and preparation.
The AAME program annually recognizes maintenance units across the Active Duty, National Guard and Reserve Components that demonstrate excellence in the field of maintenance operations.
Before being selected at the NGB level, FMS 1 submitted their packet regionally to National Guard Region 5, which includes Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, where they placed second among five TDA packet submissions. Tables of Distribution and Allowances units are non-deployable and typically support equipment in multiple units throughout portions of their states.
Field Maintenance Shop 1 shop chief, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Schmidtberger, explained that the process of preparing to submit a packet for the regional competition was challenging and lengthy.
“Gathering information, submitting it to the Kansas AAME representative and other key maintenance personnel in the state for input and making edits took approximately three months of back-and-forth, as well as about thirty additional hours of my personal time,” Schmidtberger said.
Some of that information about the shop accomplishments throughout the year includes best practices, lessons learned, Soldier competency in the maintenance field and the effects that funding and parts availability have on a unit’s readiness.
“It’s a ton of information that has to be gathered and it takes a lot of time and patience to prepare,” Schmidtberger said.
After submission, the Region 5 board suggested edits on how the competitors could improve their packets. FMS 1 updated their packet, incorporating the feedback, and then submitted to NGB where they were judged against other TDA units from across the U.S. This time they came in first.
Lt. Col. Wallace Miller, surface maintenance manager for the state of Kansas, said the first place win made sense, given the unit’s strong leadership and commitment to excellence.
“FMS 1's hard work and dedication over the last year, and historically, met or exceeded maintenance readiness for their supported units,” Miller said. “The shop is customer-focused and remains proactive in addressing organizational readiness, and they focus on developing team members to continually improve maintenance competencies.”
Schmidtberger attributes a huge part of FMS 1’s success to those individual team members, who kept the trucks that are under their shop’s responsibility at 97% fully mission capable throughout the year.
“It’s the team’s attention to detail on equipment deficiencies,” Schmidtberger said. “Without the people on the floor finding and fixing the faults in the trucks and other equipment, there would be no need to submit this AAME packet.”
“All successful programs begin with developing the individual Soldier,” Miller said. “Focusing on developing and mentoring the individual is what will ultimately result in a team of professionals capable of solving the toughest problems.”
Sgt. Maj. Craig Posch, state representative for the AAME, said a few other maintenance shops in Kansas started their packets, however, due to the pandemic, COVID-19 support missions, and overseas deployments, many shops weren’t able to continue on with their packets. Although they didn’t end up submitting, Posch said there was still value in going through the packet process.
“By going through the steps and building the packet, these TDA units help build stronger maintenance programs,” Posch said.
Schmidtberger said one advantage FMS 1 had in being successful was their full time staff. In a shop of nine full-time Guardsmen, the shop chief had enough Soldiers working to maintain readiness of equipment for the companies they support across the state. Shops without the same staffing may struggle more: traditional, part-time Soldiers may want to help out when and where they can when their communities, governors or country need them, however, prolonged support may be infeasible when volunteering for additional time takes them away from their full-time jobs for several days or months at a time.
“People join the National Guard to serve their communities and the nation,” Schmidtberger said. “It’s hard to find a balance of keeping people in the shop to maintain equipment when Soldiers are deploying with their units, volunteering for stateside missions and attending schools that help with their career progression.”
After winning at the NGB level, FMS 1’s packet competed at the Department of the Army level. Although the FMS 1 didn’t finish in the top two at the DA level, they still have the bragging rights of bringing home the gold from NGB. This is no small accomplishment, especially taking into consideration the importance of maintenance.
“Maintenance is the foundation to successful military operations,” Miller said. “When equipment is fully mission capable the commander is able to employ it in dynamic training and has faith that the equipment will perform as designed for the duration of the training event. Soldiers build trust and confidence with their equipment through utilization and repetition; an effective maintenance program enables this trust and confidence.”
Schmidtberger explained that excellence in maintenance is not only about what the field maintenance shops do for readiness, but also what Soldiers can do at the company level. Soldiers need to really use and test their equipment as opposed to only starting and running it for a while.
“If we don’t use the equipment, it rots,” Schmidtberger said. “Seals dry out which causes leaks, making the equipment inoperable.”
Those faults create more issues down the road that cause them to be in the shop for longer periods of time for repairs. When those trucks, generators and other equipment are awaiting repairs in the shop, it brings unit readiness down.
“Get your equipment out and exercise them,” Schmidtberger said. “Don’t just go out to the bullpen, start an engine and let it run. There are so many other aspects of the equipment that need worked such as the wheels, bearings, hydraulics. Keep that grease moving.”