By Spc. Tracy R. WeedenOctober 11, 2010
FORWARD OPERATING BASE WOLVERINE, Afghanistan -Two Task Force Eagle Assault UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilots made a vital submission to the Army Suggestion Program while deployed to Iraq in 2006, which was worth a $10,000 reward. Chief Warrant Officer 4 Merle Goodall, TF Eagle Assault Black Hawk standardization instructor pilot, along with Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Lemons, former TF Eagle Assault Black Hawk maintenance test pilot instructor, made the suggestion to redesign the pilots' ballistic armor wing panels on the Black Hawk. The suggestion would save lives and save the Army big bucks. They explained that the panels are critical to the safety of the pilots, passengers and aircraft. Without them, the Army could lose an $8 million aircraft along with the lives of Soldiers if the pilots were to get shot and lose control of the aircraft, said Goodall. The armor panels are critical for safety but also present a danger. The panels are a dual armor plate system which slide back and forth allowing the pilot to enter and exit the cockpit. A lever is placed on the outside of the forward plate that unlocks the plate to slide it backward. Because of the location of the lever, the pilots need assistance to operate it once they are in the cockpit. The problem with the armor panels is once the pilots are seated in the cockpit, they do not have the ability to open or close the armor plates themselves, said Goodall. Also, the panels were not designed to withstand all the sand the Black Hawk kicks up in the dusty environment here, making it very difficult to move the panel back and forth. The trouble this creates in an emergency situation, like a crash or a fire, is the pilots are unable to exit the aircraft on their own, said Goodall. This leaves the pilots to decide whether they want to survive a bullet or a crash. Black Hawk pilots appreciate the added safety the armor panels provide, but they are also aware of the risk the panels create. It is good protection unless the aircraft were to catch fire leaving the pilots no way to get out, said Chief Warrant Officer Ronnie Coyne, A Company, TF Eagle Assault Black Hawk pilot. It would be better if it were redesigned for the pilot to operate. Because pilots were questioning the use of the armor panel, Goodall and Lemons decided they would take a stand. "It's an issue which we thought was serious enough to make the effort to suggest a new design of the armor panel," said Lemons. Because there were no fatal incidents caused by these panels malfunctioning prior to the suggestion, it was initially overlooked, said Goodall. It was an in-house problem that only pilots understood. "We highlighted the fact that one crew from the Tennessee National Guard was involved in an accident which resulted in a pilot crawling over the center console because he could not retract his sliding armor panel in order to escape the aircraft as it began to burn," said Lemons. "As he was running away, the aircraft became engulfed in flames." When this team made the suggestion for the redesign of the armor panels four years ago, the suggestion went through a process of review procedures. Goodall was invited to Redstone Arsenal, Ala. to help the aircraft engineers understand the problem, enabling them to redesign a more efficient armor panel. "Suggestions are evaluated by a subject matter expert locally or forwarded to higher headquarters for proper review and evaluation by a SME at that level," said Gail Linkous, Plans, Analysis and Integration Office management and program analyst, at Fort Campbell, Ky. "All suggestions that are recommended for adoption are reviewed and approved by the deputy garrison commander and forwarded for further review if warranted." The suggestion was picked up throughout the Department of Defense, because the Army is not the only branch of military this will affect. "The armor panels will be retrofitted on all Black Hawk variants DOD wide," said Goodall. He was told they would begin installing the redesigned armor panels by fiscal year 2011. "Knowing that something will benefit the Army and our fellow Black Hawk pilots, creating a safer aircraft to operate in future combat operations, is well worth the effort," said Lemons. Goodall would like for everyone to understand the impact of the Army Suggestion Program, he said. He often sees crew chiefs using new tools and procedures from first-hand knowledge and wants to encourage them to help others through their suggestions to make operational changes Army wide. "There is always the possibility to do our work at a lower cost, with greater efficiency, quality and/or customer satisfaction," said Linkous. "The Program is designed to improve morale by providing individuals with the opportunity to voluntarily take part in the improvement of operations and the quality of life within the Army." The Army Suggestion Program also provides cash incentives up to $25,000 for adopted ideas that save government resources. Suggestion submissions are beneficial to the Army and the Soldier. Changes can be made within the organization and major cash rewards can be earned. All rewards for suggestions entered in a combat zone are tax exempt. "The amount of the award is determined by tangible and/or intangible savings, the value of benefit and extent of application," said Linkous. Ideas can be submitted online via the Army Suggestion Program Web site at http://armysuggestions.army.mil. Linkous encourages Soldiers to submit their ideas, as well as commanders to promote the Army Suggestion Program within their unit, she said. This is not the first suggestion Goodall has made which saved the Army money and the Soldiers time who serve beside him. Five years ago, he won the Military Suggestion of the Year for making a suggestion to improve a knob that kept breaking on the horizontal situation indicator, a piece of avionics equipment. Although the knob only cost approximately $5, they could not replace just the knob, and had to replace the entire device costing the Army approximately $12,000 a piece. He received $5,000 for that suggestion and the opportunity to visit the Pentagon to be presented his award. No matter how big or small the suggestion may be, it can contribute greatly to the Army and other Soldiers, so do not hesitate to submit it. "The Army Suggestion Program is not a venue for simply submitting a problem, you are also required to submit a solution," said Linkous. In order to be heard, ensure the submission provides an explanation of the current procedure, proposed procedure and the benefits of adopting the new procedure. Goodall and Lemon's knowledge, detailed description of their submitted suggestion and concern for their fellow Black Hawk pilots won them each $5,000. Their suggestion contributed to the protection of pilots, service members and government funds.