According to Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 4-33, Maintenance Operations, “The Army’s four strategic roles are: shape operational environments, prevent conflict, prevail in large-scale ground combat, and consolidate gains.” Maintenance is a key aspect of all four strategic roles. Regardless of whether Soldiers perform maintenance during home station training, combat training center rotations, or during large-scale combat operations, effective maintenance enhances readiness. Readiness directly correlates to combat power. Combat power is reflected in the assets commanders are able to employ to accomplish the mission.” A commander’s decision-making process is heavily influenced by his or her readiness levels and is almost always at the forefront of how they are evaluated. Readiness is typically divided into two areas, equipment and personnel. At the company level, equipment readiness is assessed and determined by the unit maintenance program. From the mighty M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank to a Soldier’s individually-assigned M4 carbine, maintenance plays a critical role in supporting each capability a commander can bring to the fight. Regardless of what warfighting function an organization executes daily, maintenance definitively serves a critical role in sustaining that function.
Two-Level Maintenance – The Basics
Although commanders heavily rely on the advice of their subject matter experts regarding unit maintenance, it is important for leaders at all levels to understand the fundamentals of maintenance in order to properly plan and execute maintenance operations and maximize readiness. The Army operates on a tiered, two-level maintenance system: field and sustainment maintenance. Field maintenance is conducted by three distinct groups: equipment operators, equipment crews, and military occupational specialty-trained maintainers. These groups use their specialized tool sets and test equipment to meet the organization’s needs for maintenance. Sustainment maintenance is conducted at two levels: below depot-level maintenance and depot-level maintenance. Sustainment maintenance is only conducted when required by technical manuals or when a unit’s maintainers lack tools in order to maintain a specific type of equipment. ATP 4-33 summarizes one of the goals of the two-level maintenance system as one that “provides the operating unit with more capabilities forward and the ability to respond rapidly.” Commanders and maintenance supervisors must realize that this concept is especially critical for units that are unable to field internal maintenance assets. To remedy this problem, the Army has external field-level maintenance organizations, such as a support maintenance company, that play an important role in supporting those units.
The Support Maintenance Company
What is it and why does it exist?
The Support Maintenance Company (SMC) is structured as a modular formation with three platoons that provide allied trades support, wheeled vehicle recovery, and maintenance for wheeled vehicles, communication, electronics, special electronic devices, ground support equipment, and test, measurement, and diagnostic equipment. The SMC provides field-level maintenance capabilities to supported units at echelon-above-brigade (EAB) or brigade combat team levels as outlined in a concept of support or operations order. In any given theater of operations, a SMC can be located at any point from aerial and sea ports to division support areas. SMCs are typically aligned under the operational control of a combat sustainment support battalion (CSSB).
How does an SMC provide support to external units?
The SMC is responsible for establishing communication with all supported units to enable effective support and coordination. This coordination can also be executed through the support operations section at the battalion, brigade, or command level. This line of communication is routed through the shop office, the main administrative section for the company’s maintenance operations. Units that require maintenance support for their organic equipment must submit work orders, or DA Form 5990-E, generated through the Global Combat Support System – Army. The work order for the assigned piece of equipment is then processed and delegated to the appropriate work center within the company’s sections. This process must be clearly defined in a SMC’s external maintenance standard operating procedures, which is managed by the shop office. Also, the SMC has the capability to deploy maintenance support teams in order to provide on-site repairs based on a supported unit’s requirements for maintenance.
Operation Atlantic Resolve
The Best of the Best
Atlantic Resolve is a joint contingency operation under the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) that partners with allied countries as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to increase interoperability and deter aggression against NATO allies. When one talks about providing logistics support to any given combatant command’s theater of operations, no other unit comes close to the 16th Sustainment Brigade and the support it provides to EUCOM. The Knight’s Brigade serves as the Army’s premier sustainment brigade that provides strategic, operational, and tactical-level sustainment support to Army units across Europe. The brigade oversees two CSSBs, two Movement Control Battalions, and a Special Troops Battalion. With a majority of permanently stationed forces based out of Germany, the brigade heavily relies on rotational forces to serve as the main logistics task force for Atlantic Resolve. The current logistics task force is the 757th CSSB from the Nevada Army National Guard. With all these multi-functional logistics units combined, they form the most dynamic sustainment organization in the entire United States armed forces.
The Rotational SMC
Units within the 16th Sustainment Brigade are EAB organizations that require field-level maintenance assets in order to maintain their equipment. Most units are only authorized basic maintenance sections in order to service automotive and ground support equipment. For this purpose, the brigade fields two SMCs: the 317th SMC out of Baumholder, Germany and the 542nd SMC, a rotational unit currently deployed to Poland. Together, the two companies provide field-level maintenance to all Army EAB units across the theater. The rotational SMC deploys maintenance support teams to forward sites in different NATO-allied countries to provide additional maintenance capabilities for forward units. This can include support to elements internal to the CSSB headquarters or other EAB units within their assigned regions. While each maneuver unit, such as brigade combat teams and combat aviation brigades, contain organic maintenance assets, the SMC provides field-level maintenance to over 15 external units. In addition, the company is assigned as the primary unit to provide Area Recovery support to all units across the Atlantic Resolve area of operations. Although the SMC provides key maintenance support to units while deployed abroad, thoughtful and cautious planning is required at the SMC’s home station. For example, the 542nd SMC provides maintenance support to approximately 116 different units at their home station, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. For the duration of the SMC’s absence, these customer units turn to the installation Logistics Readiness Center that is neither adequately staffed nor funded to handle the workload of the SMC. If feasible, leaders at echelon are able look at historical data for each future SMC mission set for a deployment in order to validate and determine the real time requirement to support that specific mission. This will assist in setting the expectation for SMC rotations that support future contingency operations across the globe.
The Way Ahead
The United States remains committed to a long-term alliance with NATO and its allies. This includes the longevity of rotational forces in certain nations in order to train with and support military partners. This also means an increased presence of forces and an expansion of military training areas to accommodate large-scale exercises for years to come. Regarding the SMC, this signals an opportunity to contribute in an expanded capacity to the 16th Sustainment Brigade’s mission. As the SMC supports units within the brigade, the company is also capable of providing maintenance support to all of U.S. Army Europe’s direct subordinate commands. However, this is not to say that the SMC’s capabilities are limitless. Expanding support means increased readiness. Additionally, this implies that unit readiness is paramount for all follow-on rotational units programmed for future deployments in support of Atlantic Resolve. Rotational units now rely heavily on their organic equipment as it becomes a deployment requirement. In order to expand its efforts in support of a large area of operations, future rotational SMCs will need to meet and deploy with this prescribed requirement. This can only be achieved through an efficient unit maintenance program which, in turn, sustains a higher state of readiness. Future rotational SMCs have an immense task ahead for upcoming contingency operations and exercises in Europe. The SMC must be able to execute any supporting tasks within its purview as directed by its higher headquarters. For now, readiness is the name of the game. There must be no higher standard for excellence in maintenance, or overall readiness, than a company with which that specialty lies.
Capt. Matthew Diaz serves as commander of the 542nd Support Maintenance Company at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Guam. He has attended the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rafael Lazzarini serves as the automotive maintenance technician for the 542nd Support Maintenance Company at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Political Science in Excelsior College. He has attended the Warrant Officer Advanced Course.