By Mr. James Brabenec (IMCOM)October 28, 2010
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Equipment maintenance is a huge undertaking at Fort Sill, and to better manage that critical function the post is moving to civilianize 213 maintenance jobs that support the three training brigades here.
The change from Soldier to Civil Service maintainers came about from an agreement reached between the commanding generals of the Army's Training and Doctrine, and Materiel commands and will enable TRADOC to focus on its core competency, to train Soldiers.
"This is a win-win across the board for the Army," said Kirby Brown, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill deputy to the commanding general. "Because this equipment is used for training and is not deployable, we can match up civilian workers who won't deploy providing more continuity and stability, and freeing up Soldiers for other duties."
Upon completion, slated for Oct. 1, all civilians will work for AMC. Soldiers will leave for assignments to other Forces Command units or to TRADOC instructor positions here. Others will separate or retire and may apply for positions through the normal hiring process.
Bob Griffin is the Fleet Management Expansion director who oversees maintenance in support of the three training brigades on post: the 6th Air Defense Artillery and 428th and 434th Field Artillery brigades.
Having served as a chief warrant officer for 30 years active-duty service and now three years with Civil Service, he knows well the merits of civilian or Soldiers maintainers.
"Soldiers did a great job maintaining all the equipment that brigades used to train up Soldiers," he said. "With the arrival of a Civil Service workforce, Fort Sill will have a dedicated force that doesn't have a lot of additional duties and responsibilities that will take it away from performing maintenance. They will also come with a greater depth of experience and by potentially staying here longer, benefit TRADOC's mission as well."
The scope of maintenance extends across a broad spectrum to include ground, artillery, missile and communications equipment. This includes 12,000 pieces of communications equipment and night vision goggles, 8,000 weapons, 600 vehicles and about 250 trailers and generators, all of which support the training needs of about 30,000 Soldiers each year.
Serving as the senior maintenance officer on post, Chief Warrant Officer Todd Metcalf has overseen the process from the beginning.
He said the shift in responsibility keeps all maintenance within AMC's sphere of influence.
"Army Materiel Command has all the resources, parts, contracts and item managers so it makes sense for maintenance to come from within the command, too," said Metcalf, Fort Sill Logistics Officer for Maintenance. "This way maintenance can secure parts and equipment as needed from within the command and realize faster fix actions."
Part of this inherent speed in repairs is due to an increased maintenance time on equipment as compared to Soldiers. Metcalf cited a Soldier's day is usually divided up between work, physical training, details, formations and other matters. This decreases their maintenance time down to an average of five to six hours per day. Civilians on the other hand should average seven to eight hours on the job with a one-hour lunch break.
Officials expect focused maintenance should result in an increase in equipment readiness. To help maintain this readiness, a fleet maintenance officer is assigned to each brigade and will be the liaison to make sure assets and backups are available as needed.
Metcalf noted interest in the positions is high. Officials just went through the hiring process for one position and received 46 resumes, not only from the immediate vicinity, but from throughout the country. Jobs range from basic "wrench turner" wage grade employees to wage leads and supervisors. Some Government Service positions in management or staff functions will also be filled.
"We made sure we had the right mix of technical proficiency represented to meet the maintenance needs of Fort Sill," he said.
The methodical plan includes a hiring board that meets every two weeks as Soldiers come up for assignments and become losses. Based on these losses, job openings will be announced and filled to maintain a one-for-one replacement of the work force.
Soldiers still awaiting assignments will remain with their respective brigades and continue working in maintenance. Some may stay a while to meet time on station and other requirements, said Metcalf. Once they receive assignments, these Soldiers will stay in maintenance filling available slots in Forces Command units.
Some facilities may still have contract workers, but Griffin said those contracts will not be renewed. These workers may then apply for the Civil Service positions once the contract runs out.
Brown said the majority of applicants so far have come from the immediate area. Because of this, he's not sure there will be much of an influx of new people moving to the surrounding communities. Regardless, Fort Sill does not house civilian employees on post, and so, those who do come may be more likely to be home buyers and people who remain in the community.