NORTH FORT HOOD, Texas – As part of the 11th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade’s post-mobilization at North Fort Hood, Texas, a culminating training exercise (CTE) tested every aspect of its personnel and aviation assets in order to assess the brigade’s mission cohesiveness and capability.
A significant enabler for the 11th ECAB’s success during the exercise was the behind-the-scenes work done by the brigade’s support personnel. From air traffic control operators to human resource specialists, these men and women maximized the 11th ECAB’s operational capabilities while minimizing the risk involved.
One group of Soldiers that especially stood out for their exceptional contributions to the brigade’s mission were the aviation maintainers that are responsible for keeping the brigade’s helicopters in a mission-ready status around the clock.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Mark McIntosh, the 11th ECAB aviation maintenance officer, describes the Army’s aviation maintainer occupation as the “magic coffee table”, a phrase popularized through a skit performed by Australian comedian Troy Kinne.
“The guy puts things on a coffee table and he tells us how he doesn’t understand, but whatever you put there magically disappears or fixes itself,” McIntosh said. “That’s exactly what everyone thinks about maintainers.”
The repairs and inspections that the 11th ECAB’s maintainers perform daily are not done through a wave of a wand, however. They are a result of the newly-revised and robust training initiative that Soldiers first receive during their initial instruction as aviation maintainers.
“Performing maintenance and training is usually accomplished in a crawl, walk then run structure,” McIntosh said. “When the aircraft flew in here, they had issues and little things that break here and there that we need to fix, so our maintainers were in a dead-heat run right from the start.”
The demands that were placed on the brigade’s maintainers early in the post-mobilization process would push them out of their comfort zone and test their resolve long before the CTE would begin. These soldiers had arrived from over 40 different states at drastically different levels of expertise. Many of them were meeting their coworkers for the first time, and some had not yet worked on a functional helicopter outside of their initial training.
U.S. Army (Reserve) Spc. Ruben Olvera, a general maintainer with Bravo Company, 90th Aviation Support Battalion (ASB), 11th ECAB, revealed how integrating with Soldiers from different backgrounds helped accomplish their daily tasks and address the differences in expertise.
“You learn a lot about unit cohesion,” Ruben said. “You walk, talk and work around new people, which allows you to learn new ideas and new ways to best approach a problem.”
An important part of aviation maintenance is planning for issues long before they may occur. Flight hours for each helicopter in the brigade are tracked and utilized according to Army Aviation’s published maintenance techniques. This ensures that specific inspections correspond with the expected wear-and-tear of the aircraft, and maintainers use this guidance to streamline inspections, repairs and when ordering new parts.
This process was utilized during the 11th ECAB’s post-mobilization for a CH-47 Chinook that had reached 320 flight hours.
U.S. Army (Reserve) Staff Sgt. Salima Singh, the phase maintenance team leader for the project and a CH-47 helicopter repairer with Bravo Company, 90th ASB, would lead her team through a complex series of tasks that involved removing the blades of the helicopter entirely to inspect the rotors.
The maintainers had 456 inspections that needed to be completed over the span of 20 days, Singh explained. Over that period of time, the maintenance revealed several deficiencies that were properly addressed.
At the same time that the maintainers were busy making the helicopter safer for future flight crews, they were also busy setting a new standard in Army Reserve Aviation.
“No one has ever attempted to do a 320 phase in this environment,” Singh said. “So this is somewhat like a trial run before the next unit that is out here can have the same opportunity that we did.”
U.S. Army (Reserve) Spc. Matthew King, a general maintainer with Delta Company, 7-158th General Support Aviation Battalion (GSAB), 11th ECAB, was thankful for the opportunity to build upon his skillset outside of the traditional battle assembly weekends in the Army Reserve.
“I’ve gotten more comfortable on certain tasks,” said King. “Clearly, I don’t know everything, but I feel more prepared when they ask me to go complete a task than I was a few months ago because we are out here doing it constantly on a daily basis.”
While they remain busy forging their own historic success, The 11th ECAB’s capable maintainers fall into the ranks of the largest mobilizing force in U.S. Army Reserve Aviation history. These Soldiers will continue to leverage their technical knowledge of the brigade’s UH-60 Black Hawk and the CH-47 Chinook helicopters with their own combat lethality to maintain a capable fighting force dedicated to missions world-wide.
“I don’t think there is one person among our training partners here or in our command that isn’t proud of what our maintainers in 90th ASB and Delta Company, 7-158th GSAB have done,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 McIntosh. “We aren’t perfect, but I think it’s amazing how far we’ve come and how we were able to get there safely.”