FORT DETRICK, Md. -- Sustainment of complex medical devices would be impossible without trained technicians available to service them.
U.S. Army Medical Logistics Command handles a large portion of that role at the sustainment level through its medical maintenance divisions across the U.S.
In addition to these facilities, highly skilled Soldiers represent some of the military’s best sustainment resources, both at the unit level and integrated into the sustainment enterprise, including graduates from the Army’s Training with Industry, or TWI, program.
“The TWI program enables Soldiers to develop specific skills and expertise related to some of the most advanced and cutting-edge medical equipment and technologies,” AMLC Sgt. Maj. Akram Shaheed said. “This experience can also help them become experts in maintaining and troubleshooting complex medical devices.”
The Army’s main objective in sponsoring the TWI program is to develop a group of Soldiers experienced in higher level managerial techniques and who understand the relationship of their industry as it relates to specific Army functions.
In medical, it’s paramount to understand how public and private industries interact, considering many medical devices are “off-the-shelf” commercial items supplied by private industry. Like other TWI programs, the Army partners directly with a private company to provide specialized medical maintenance training to three Soldiers each year.
“The program is designed to not just key on one specific thing, but for Soldiers to learn industry best practices, corporate management practices and advanced technical skills, then bring that back to the Army,” said recently retired 1st Sgt. Wes Ladlee, who now serves as a AMLC contractor.
Prior to retirement, Ladlee served as the senior enlisted adviser for the 68A, or biomedical equipment specialist, military occupational specialty and was a leading voice for the expansion of medical maintenance training programs.
That role now falls on the shoulders of Master Sgt. Brian Threatt, the current 68A career lead. He said the program’s 12-month curriculum goes “above and beyond” in support of the Soldier’s personal and professional development, including courses focused on critical-thinking and communication skills.
“The bottom line is this program produces a well-rounded NCO that will benefit any organization to which they are assigned.”
While Army TWI programs in general date back to the 1970s, the need for the medical maintenance program came to a head around 2008, when poor conditions and a lack of resources in the Middle East, combined with heavy maintenance requirements, contributed to high levels of downtime for deployable computed tomography, or CT, machines and other systems, Ladlee said.
“Without specially trained 68As on the ground, our civilian maintenance teams were constantly out there trying to keep them up and running,” he said, a process that adds time to the repair or replacement process and additional resources.
In the latest round of training, three 68As -- Staff Sgt. Konnor Grimshaw, Sgt. D’Angelo Brown and Sgt. Erick Rodriguez -- are training alongside a private sector firm as they learn the ins and outs of new medical equipment being fielded to the force, including a new deployable CT, X-ray machines and other advanced equipment.
Brandon Cester, a retired chief warrant officer three who now works for the company providing the training, said he’s seen the value of the program firsthand, producing highly trained and experienced Soldiers that directly support Army Medicine’s worldwide mission.
“In my position as a federal service sales manager, I am excited to take part of and witness the development of these Soldiers, both personally and professionally,” Cester said.
One of the biggest takeaways from TWI, according to Ladlee, is that 68As who complete the program are then able to serve as instructors to their peers at the unit level.
“It’s had a dramatic impact on our readiness downrange,” he said. “Getting a TWI Soldier in your element with the ability to increase the critical medical device uptime; not only helps the commanders on the ground, but it also helps reduce the strain on sustainment resources.
“The private sector employs a variety of capabilities for sustainment strategies, such as tele-maintenance and remote diagnostics,” Ladlee added. “We are in the groundwork stages now developing a medical maintenance tele-maintenance program. Graduates of TWI will have received exposure to all these strategies and can help develop the Army’s programs given their experience.”
Shaheed stressed that Soldiers who complete the medical maintenance TWI program are simply “better equipped to handle the challenges of maintaining and repairing medical equipment in a war zone.”
“The Army’s job is the deploy and win wars,” he said. “Their advanced skills, adaptability, efficiency and problem-solving abilities can make a significant difference in supporting health care operations during military deployments.”
In completing the program, Soldiers then embark on a three-year utilization assignment. Those assignments include several roles within the AMLC enterprise, including at two of its direct reporting units -- the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency and U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center-Europe.
Shaheed urged Soldiers in the medical maintenance field to consider TWI and the unique opportunity it presents for both personal and professional growth. The program provides an opportunity to network with professionals in the private sector, potentially opening future career prospects as well.
“TWI improves organizations and Army business practices to better sustain the warfighter and ensure medical readiness,” Ladlee said. “It’s a great program since it helps industry better understand the needs of the warfighter, as well as meet the individual training requirements of our Soldiers.”
Army Human Resources Command typically issues an annual call for applications for its available TWI slots in the June to July time frame, Threatt said. That correspondence will include further details on the application process.