By Darrell D. Ames, U.S. Army Fires Center of Excellence
The U.S. Army brings in approximately 68,000 new recruits annually. These basic and advanced trainees use modernized and, in some cases, highly technical vehicles for travel and maneuver operations during their daily training missions.
Keeping this impressive inventory running and in prime condition would appear to require a rather enormous, intricate and sophisticated system, which is true. This system is known as the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command's Fleet Management Expansion program. One of these elaborate maintenance programs is positioned at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
“We provide maintenance support for every piece of equipment that our basic trainees travel in and advanced individual trainees train on,” said Fort Sill Deputy Division Chief at Missile and Fires Division Todd Cobb. The Missile and Fires Division is one of AMCOM’s six FMX sites.
Job training for field artillery and air defense system operators in the U.S. Army requires 10 weeks of Basic Combat Training and, depending on their military occupational specialty, between 10 and 20 weeks of Advanced Individual Training with on-the-job instruction. Part of this time is spent in the classroom and in the field under simulated combat conditions. It is this “in-the-field” training that requires weapons systems, radars and other essential equipment to operate correctly, accurately whenever needed.
Four of the nine FMX facilities spread out across the sprawling 94,000-acre installation at Fort Sill are dedicated to wheel and track maintenance.
“We perform scheduled and unscheduled maintenance year-round,” said Cobb. “Supporting the warfighter is our primary mission. We are here to ensure that our troops are driving and riding in safe and reliable vehicles.”
“We support [air defense artillery] platforms like Patriot launchers and radars, Avenger systems, Firefinder radar, Patriot, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, and Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar systems,” said Derrick Gentilly, heavy-wheel maintenance supervisor. “We also support [field artillery] systems such as Paladins, the Multiple Launch Rocket System, the High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System, Stryker vehicles and self-propelled howitzers.”
Soldiers manning the Patriot missile system made history during Operation Desert Storm in January 1991 when they shot down Iraqi Scuds launched toward U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. The system was designed to take out incoming enemy rockets midair by launching missiles at them. The technology had never been used before – not even by the Soldiers going to war with it.
“Everybody knows about the Patriot system now,” said Mark Wander, Fort Sill B4101 Patriot Shop supervisor. “Our future Soldiers train hard and they know the systems well when they leave here. A great deal of the instruction includes troubleshooting the intricate systems we employ. If they can fix these, they can fix anything.”
The Patriot system is still used to this day by the U.S. Army and its allies to bring down enemy missiles. The FMX facilities on Fort Sill ensure future warriors are going into combat with the knowledge to use each system and the confidence of knowing they will work properly.
Prior to the creation of FMX, much of the equipment used in training was down for maintenance or repair. "The program is definitely a success," Cobb said. "We have an availability rate of 98.6% for every single day of training."
In the past two years, Fort Sill FMX has completed more than 32,800 work orders and more than 6,500 scheduled services. They have also supported 30 live-fire exercises and conducted more than 100 recovery missions.
“The cost savings has been enormous as well,” said Cobb. “In more than 10 years we’ve saved more than $12 million.” The result is a much more efficient system making sure U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command meets all its training requirements with no missed Soldier training while reducing the cost of doing business, along with maintaining a nearly 99% equipment readiness rate.
Both the FA school and the ADA school have their own wheel shops, supporting the 428th Field Artillery Brigade and the 30th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, respectively. The FA school also utilizes a heavy wheel/track shop which also supports the basic and advanced noncommissioned officer courses and a wheel shop on the basic training side of the installation in support of the 434th Field Artillery Brigade.
“As it says in our mission statement, we are committed to the principles of ‘mission first, people always,’” said Cobb. “We maintain the readiness our Army needs, remain good stewards of our nation’s resources and constantly take care of each other.”
Born out of an idea developed almost 20 years ago, the FMX mission is to ensure Soldiers and trainees receive the training they need with reliable, effective and properly maintained equipment. Proposed cuts in the growth of defense spending and the need to become more efficient at the time led to the ultimate creation of the FMX concept. An ensuing pilot program led to the realignment of the training equipment maintenance mission from TRADOC to U.S. Army Materiel Command. Fort Sill’s FMX site was established in 2005 under AMC’s Tank Automotive Command before transitioning to AMCOM in 2016.
Weapons systems such as Patriot, Avenger, THAAD and others are the warfighting blueprint for the future, born out of success from the past. The legacy created sets the precedent for training today and moving forward. The young Soldiers operating these systems are a large part of that future. FMX does its part to ensure these young men and women train on reliable and accurate systems and equipment.
The 30th Air Defense Artillery Brigade is a subordinate unit of the Fires Center of Excellence, which is part of TRADOC. The FMX program is a proven success story for TRADOC, AMCOM and AMCOM’s Aviation Center Logistics Command, the command to which the FMX sites are assigned, by saving the U.S. taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars while reducing system and equipment downtime.
“It’s hard to put an actual estimate on the time and money we’ve saved,” said Cobb. “The success of any program is getting more bang for the buck, and we’ve certainly done that with the FMX program. Plus, it just made good sense.”