By Ms. Jacqueline Boucher (AMC)July 2, 2010
TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, PA. - "If you want to try something new or if you're stale in your job and want to break out of the routine," said Russ Wright, "doing field work will remind you of why we're here, how important our job is and I think you'll enjoy it."
One of the biggest draws for members of the FRA network is the mobile nature of their work, never knowing where the job will take them, but knowing the work they do is vital to the success of warfighters serving around the world.
Tobyhanna's FRA East Branch directs nearly 100 employees based at several military installations east of the Mississippi River, including the depot. As part of a network of electronics repair, these specialists support systems such as Standard Army Management Information Systems (STAMIS), Command Post Systems & Integration (CPS&I) equipment formerly known as TOCs (Tactical Operations Center), Air Defense/Air Space Management (ADAM) Cell, Army Airborne Command and Control System (A2C2S), and Common Ground Station (CGS).
The branch boasts regional support managers, field support representatives (FSR), equipment specialists and computer repair experts.
The FRA is capable of sustainment and training support of a broad range of Army systems, explained Lead Field Support Representative Joe Gonzalez, adding that work consists of preventative maintenance, forward repair, training and Reset. Gonzalez works with an FRA team that supports several units stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C.
STAMIS volunteers repair computer systems, which includes anything that is a desktop or laptop-based system, like MC4 (Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care) or office automation equipment.
"I have a few individuals who work on a CGS program at Fort Bragg and Tobyhanna," said Wright. "They are home-based here, but travel all over the world to support Soldiers." The program provides home station and temporary duty support for units throughout the continental United States including active and reserve components, the branch chief explained.
Dozens of workers also travel extensively supporting CPS&I Reset efforts at locations in the eastern United States and overseas. Units can ship equipment to one of Tobyhanna's strategically placed facilities or FRA employees can deploy to their location.
"Our mission is direct Soldier support," said Wright, "If the Soldier can't come to us, we go to them," he said. "Wherever the mission is, that's where members of the branch will be."
FRA East Branch is represented at six stateside locations, Iraq and Afghanistan. There are even employees stationed with the National Guard in Troy, N.Y.
Electronics Specialist Scott Cummings is part of the FRA team stationed at Wright Army Air Field, Fort Stewart, Ga. He works on CPS&I equipment and provides logistical and field support for several other programs. Cummings explained that he and the other FSRs procure parts and train Soldiers on the operation and performance capabilities of components.
"I feel the work we do is vital to the warfighter because it keeps the equipment we support in peak condition, which keeps the troops alive," Cummings said. "Sometimes we act as advisors or perform necessary repairs ourselves."
Reset teams can perform direct exchange on some items or make repairs ranging from replacing a cable to reloading software or a configuration change in the system. Capabilities also include sheet metal repair, environmental control unit and auxiliary power unit repair, and integration and testing of network/radio equipment.
"Employees on the Reset team are highly skilled, experienced, dedicated, talented and loyal people," said Angel Camacho, eastern region Reset manager, Fort Bragg, N.C. "We're here to support the warfighter 110 percent, no matter what it takes. Many lives depend on us."
Jason Mengel joined the FRA team to broaden his range of skills and travel to new places.
"As a Reset volunteer, I'm able to learn new things while providing a quality product in a timely manner," Mengel said. "The work performed here [Fort Bragg] helps the warfighters complete their mission successfully."
In Afghanistan, one electronics equipment specialist provides dedicated support to the 101st Airborne Combat Aviation Brigade. He also works with what he calls 'orphaned units' that need help on systems within his area of technical expertise.
"Although I'm primarily responsible for CPS&I and support auxiliary equipment such as trailer-mounted generators, the unit views my support as the 'jack of all trades' in areas pertaining to electronics and electrical," said John Hickman. "I've come to realize that every skill or talent a person possesses is useful when in theater." Hickman is a Tobyhanna FSR detailed out of Fort Campbell, Ky.
Hickman said working in an austere environment has taught him how to improvise when it comes to accomplishing the mission.
"These units often look to us [Tobyhanna] to come up with some particular plan or viable solution in a very short timeframe," he said. "While it may be easy to evaluate and order replacement parts, the real talent in providing quality support is being able to improvise a quick, short-term fix until permanent repairs can be completed."
For those considering a job like his, Hickman remarked it encompasses responsibilities from mentoring, teaching and advising.
"It is what you make of it," he said. "I know that my customer views me as critical and mission essential."
After retiring from the military, Edwin Bookout realized the FRA program was perfect for him.
"I still wanted to work around Soldiers," he said. "I love to fix things and the job is challenging and rewarding. Once you establish yourself with the unit and they understand you're there to help, you become the 'Tobyhanna guy.'"
Bookout is assigned to the FRA in Fort Drum, N.Y., where two teams of electronics equipment specialists work alongside brigade combat teams, and aviation and sustainment brigades assigned to the 10th Mountain Division.
More often than not, team members are either prepping for deployment or deployed to locations like Iraq or Afghanistan. The FRA also supports National Guard units as needed.
"We support the unit no matter where they go," Bookout said. "We cover everything from over-the-shoulder training for the Soldiers on the equipment, troubleshooting issues, upgrades and repairing/replacing bad subcomponents that make up the system. We get them ready for war, and then go with them."
When deployed, FRA employees depend on the depot for pay, parts and personnel actions. Bookout noted that getting parts can be an issue in the combat zone; however, Tobyhanna's quick response often impresses the unit.
The branch frequently receives accolades for a job well done, often highlighting an individual's work ethic or technical expertise.
"A very professional, well organized team issuing an above-standards product," said a customer who worked with branch employees at Fort Stewart.
Another customer from Fort Bragg wrote that he appreciated the dedication, determination, professionalism and "excellent" customer service provided by the FRA staff.
"These people went above and beyond to help me," he said. "For this line of work, I sense they have an intrinsic philosophy that excellence is a standard, not a goal."
Wright agrees. He believes the people who work for him are fantastic.
"What I think sets them apart is a sense of adventure, wanting to learn new things and meet new people," Wright said. "The most important aspect of an FRA is the ability for the Soldier to develop a relationship with the person who's providing the service at home or in the field."
Tobyhanna's network of electronics repair stretches around the globe to more than 50 FRA locations. Seventy-five percent of that workload is performed by hundreds of C3/Avionics Directorate employees assigned to the FRA Division's four branches.
FRAs can operate from the frontlines or a unit's home station. Charged with the same overall mission as C3/Avionics-repairing and overhauling electronics equipment-they are located in 18 states and several locations in Europe and Southwest Asia.
(Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of articles scheduled to appear in the Tobyhanna Reporter detailing the Command, Control and Computers (C3)/Avionics Directorate's extensive Forward Repair Activity (FRA) mission. The articles will focus on the people and workload that supports America's military.
Tobyhanna Army Depot is the Defense Department's largest center for the repair, overhaul and fabrication of a wide variety of electronics systems and components, from tactical field radios to the ground terminals for the defense satellite communications network. Tobyhanna's missions support all branches of the Armed Forces.
About 5,600 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania.
Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army CECOM Life Cycle Management Command. Headquartered at Fort Monmouth, N.J., the command's mission is to research, develop, acquire, field and sustain communications, command, control computer, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors capabilities for the Armed Forces.