FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – When the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team deployed to Fort Irwin, California, for a rotation at the National Training Center last year, it was missing a few key pieces: about 70 Stryker mechanics.
As a result, the brigade had to request support from active-duty Stryker brigades.
The 56th SBCT has had difficulty recruiting and retaining Stryker mechanics for several years. That’s an issue with the brigade operating about 320 of the eight-wheeled, armored vehicles.
To reduce the shortage of Stryker mechanics – military occupational specialty 91S – both in the 56th SBCT and the Washington National Guard’s 81st SBCT, a new six-week course has been developed that will allow current Soldiers to reclassify without going back to Advanced Individual Training.
Previously, any Soldier who wanted to reclassify as a Stryker mechanic had to attend a 17-week AIT.
“The 17-week AIT course was the biggest challenge getting Soldiers to go back and get qualified,” said Lt. Col. Jeremy Coleman, deputy chief of staff for logistics (G4), Pennsylvania Army National Guard. “No specialist or sergeant wanted to go back to AIT.”
Additionally, Coleman said, being a Reserve-component SBCT, the 56th only received six seats annually at the AIT course.
The 56th SBCT has had a Stryker mechanic shortage for various reasons, said Lt. Col. Christopher Costello, the brigade commander, including recruiting and retention challenges the entire military has been experiencing and school availability.
“This course will mitigate the schooling availability issue,” Costello said.
The Stryker mechanics shortage became apparent as the brigade began to prepare for its NTC rotation, especially since the timeline to attend the NTC was accelerated, limiting the brigade’s ability to find ways around the shortage, Costello said.
“Typically, during the normal course of business, we can mitigate the lack of Stryker mechanics through various methods of cross-support,” he said. “However, we knew that having the entire brigade employed at the NTC, the lack of mechanics would pose a more significant concern to the readiness of the brigade. This is why the brigade requested support from the active component.”
Following the 56th SBCT’s rotation at NTC, Costello said the brigade implemented a strategy to identify faults, order parts and make repairs that have significantly increased the brigade’s Stryker readiness.
He also said the brigade’s current mechanics and field maintenance shops leverage their time and resources throughout the week and during drill weekends to ensure the brigade maintains its operational readiness rate.
“However, this is a short-term fix, and we know that to be able to ensure the brigade can perform its missions, it must increase and fill its Stryker mechanic positions,” Costello said. “Creating this Stryker maintainer schooling opportunity is key to this requirement, and we expect this will set the conditions for the brigade’s future success.”
The new six-week transition course has been approved by Combined Arms Support Command, Coleman said, and the first class is scheduled to begin June 20 at Fort Lee, Virginia. Pennsylvania will get 13 seats in the first class.
There will be one class this year and one next year, but after 2024, CASCOM may conduct additional courses off-site at Regional Training Sites-Maintenance, such as the one at Fort Indiantown Gap, Coleman said.
“This is a big win for both the 56th SBCT and the 81st SBCT,” Colemans said. “We learned how valuable the 91S mechanics were at NTC last summer. We had 20 active-duty 91S’s attached to us for the rotation, and filling some of the vacancies for the rotation certainly helped keep the operational readiness rate up and reduced the overdue services' backlog.”