CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait - With over six months of overseas duty completed, aviation Soldiers of the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Mustang, continue to maintain and repair aircraft for flight missions across the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibilities.
Aircraft maintainers and repairers of Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment, General Support Aviation Battalion, 36th CAB, deliver nonstop service to the 36th CAB’s assigned rotary wing aircraft at airfields and outposts across the Middle East.
U.S. Army Capt. Reneillio R. Morrison, commander of Delta Company, leads the “Desperados” from Camp Buehring.
“Our maintenance operations focus on supporting our pilots by generating combat power,” said Morrison. “Aviation is inherently dangerous, so it’s our job to support our organization by mitigating risk through decisive decision-making, experienced maintenance support, and providing safe flyable aircraft.”
Morrison, who also serves as a UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter pilot in command, said GSAB pilots have moved tons of cargo efficiently using fewer blade hours “thanks to the skilled work of our aviation maintainers.”
First Sgt. Jeffrey P. Bragg, company first sergeant of the Desperados, said the Soldiers have learned from senior enlisted personnel.
“Many of our Soldiers arrived here straight out of advanced infantry training, and our senior enlisted have had to manage maintenance schedules while also teaching all of them on how to safely work on the aircraft,” he said.
This is Bragg’s sixth deployment and his first tour with the 36th CAB.
“These guys have been working on these aircraft since we mobilized at Fort Hood back in June. We’ve seen them develop into field experts,” said Bragg. “Being able to mentor them on how to maintain their daily operations while training new maintainers has paid off well.”
Bragg noted the importance of keeping his Soldiers on task, regardless of mission location in the Middle East.
“Maintaining a positive work environment and understanding how our work on these aircraft contributes to the overall mission keeps our Soldiers motivated,” he explained. “Our aircraft play a critical role in transporting people and equipment. If they are not maintained well, our coalition partners in Iraq, Jordan or Syria cannot accomplish their missions.”
The Desperados maintain and offer back shop support to Black Hawk and Apache helicopters alongside maintainers from the adjacent battalions. Just about every aircraft across the CAB will have received inspection work from their Soldiers.
Sgt. 1st Class Victor Griffin, a maintenance platoon sergeant, served in Army aviation under the Texas Army National Guard since the beginning of the Iraq War and was assigned to the 36th CAB in 2004.
“A lot of unit restructuring happened over the past couple decades, but our role in every operation has been relatively the same over those years,” said Griffin. “For day-to-day operations, mission success is dependent on our commitment to safety in everything we do.”
Staff Sgt. Timothy Hollen, quality control NCOIC for Black Hawk maintenance at Camp Buehring, said the reality for every maintainer is “whether they get to fly in these aircraft or not, every time they touch a wrench, we hold somebody’s life in our hands.”
On his sixth deployment, Hollen is assigned to the 2-149th GSAB from the Wyoming Army National Guard. Before joining the Army National Guard, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps, maintaining variants of the CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter.
“When we are on a tight work schedule, we may be working to maintain a UH-60L model one moment and then switch to a UH-60M in the next,” said Hollen. “In such situations, we must be prepared to adjust our processes, which requires having the right personnel and resources available for both airframes, despite their similarities.”
The U.S. Army uses a five-level system to classify maintenance activities for rotary-wing aircraft. Each level has specific tasks and requirements to ensure the safety and reliability of the aircraft. As the levels increase, the complexity and scope of maintenance also increase.
Maintenance Level 0, as required for pilots, are preflight inspections. ML 1 thru 2 are in-depth inspections and tasks carried out by aircrews and support personnel with applicable supervision. ML 3 thru 4 are component repairs and, ultimately, complete overhaul and repair of aircraft for advanced and specialized maintenance personnel.
Sgt. Kevin Vasquez, maintenance section NCOIC and certified ML 3 under Desperados Company, supervises his team of maintainers and repairers for the CH-47 Chinook helicopters.
“Our teams work 10-hour shifts,” said Vasquez. “In several instances, we have worked as long as 14 hours, but only because of workload schedule and specific mission requirements.
“Chinooks can be more rugged than Black Hawk helicopters, but are the most complicated rotary wing due to its larger airframe and tandem rotor system,” he said. “The duration of flight status ultimately depends on experience levels and efforts of the team.”
Because of the airframe layout and size, he noted that it’s common for avionics faults to occur in one area then relocate to another. Records of when such faults happen, including any required repairs, provide valuable information for analyzing trends and identifying potential issues that require modifications or improvements.
In August, within a month of the 2-149th GSAB’s arrival in theater, the U.S. Army grounded its entire fleet of CH-47 models due to a series of engine fires caused by faulty O-ring components distributed to every Chinook Company earlier in the year. Once the Army aviation community identified the required fix and distributed corrective measures, Chinook maintainers reinstated the CAB’s CH-47s to flight status in a matter of days.
Each maintainer across the company has at least attained a new maintenance level since arriving. Collectively, across CENTCOM AOR, Task Force Mustang continues to record well over 20,000 flight hours from their pilots, thanks to the general support provided by all maintainers.