Maintenance is a key tool of leadership

| January 28, 2014 | 0 Comments
Soldiers of the 82nd ESC, 65th Eng. Bn., 130th Eng. Bde., 8th TSC, come together in front of one of their route clearance vehicles, stationed at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.

Soldiers of the 82nd ESC, 65th Eng. Bn., 130th Eng. Bde., 8th TSC, come together in front of one of their route clearance vehicles, stationed at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.

Story and photos by
1st Lt. Cathleen Rush
82nd Engineer Support Company, 65th Eng. Battalion, 130th Eng. Brigade, 8 Theater Sustainment Command

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — If done properly and at correct times, maintenance in the Army allows units to stay combat-ready.

But maintenance is, many times, the component of operations that gets overlooked and sent to the bottom of the priority list. Most Soldiers would not be able to explain a Non-Mission Capable (NMC) Equipment Report; “B” status code or a “BB” supply status code might as well be written in a foreign language.

Serving as an engineer support company’s (ESC) maintenance platoon leader both in garrison and while deployed can offer a unique opportunity to lead Soldiers, to provide a distinct advantage for the company command team and to gain valuable personal and professional development.

Maintenance is required in every type of training we do in the Army. All rolling stock, or vehicles, require semi-annual and annual services, as well as regular mechanical repairs, for any issues that arise during use. Most junior leaders are aware of these basic, tracked requirements but do not think about how maintenance is intertwined in everything else.

For example, running a tactical operation center (TOC) in the field requires maintenance support, as generators to run the TOC must be serviced and sustained to function properly. Staff exercises require vehicles to transfer equipment to the training site, and those vehicles require maintenance. Movement of troops by vehicles or by foot for a field exercise requires extensive planning for the sustainment and recovery of those assets. Regardless of if you are planning a range, a 12-mile foot march, a convoy or establishing a TOC; maintenance is a major key to success.

Prior to deployment, I spent six months in garrison as the platoon leader for the 82nd ESC, 65th Eng. Battalion, 130th Eng. Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command. While in garrison, my roles and responsibilities mirrored most other platoon leaders. Most days were spent taking care of administrative actions, planning training events, tracking services and coordinating operator support. As a platoon, we conducted recovery operations during various exercises and projects.

One of the maintenance platoon’s MRVs, a critical component to the engineer company as it allows for each route clearance patrol to self-recover, reducing time spent in hostile areas.

One of the maintenance platoon’s MRVs, a critical component to the engineer company as it allows for each route clearance patrol to self-recover, reducing time spent in hostile areas.

During the road to war, we completed a battalion-level National Training Center (NTC) rotation. Our company received some of the best training to date, and our mechanics were able to work side by side with ManTech to repair route clearance vehicles that the company would be using down range. This was a critical task, as the company would be serving in a role different than that of its garrison mission. Therefore, the equipment the company would use, would also be different.

While some of our Soldiers had received training from courses, such as the R2C2 Maintainer, for most, the training was new. During the rotation, we used the Mine-Resisted Ambush Protected Recovery Vehicle (MRV) on route clearance patrols and tracked patterns of both parts that broke most often and persisting mechanical issues. The Soldiers learned valuable lessons from NTC and were able to plan better for the upcoming deployment.

One of the biggest obstacles we identified early on, however, was the lack of MRV operators within the platoon. This problem required coordination with the battalion training section to send additional Soldiers to the MRV School in Texarkana, Texas.

Between the schoolhouse in Texarkana and the MRV training conducted immediately upon arrival at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, we established four rotating MRV teams to support two route clearance patrols (RCPs). These rotating teams allowed each Soldier to gain recovery and mission experience while still ensuring these mechanics were able to keep the other equipment within the company mission-capable.

While deployed, I now serve as the company’s point of contact for all field service representatives (FSRs) in theater. Due to the vast diversity of enablers within an individual RCP, I work with 36 different contractors and organizations across three regional commands and with reach back to U.S. organizations such as ManTech, Joint Robotics and the Pentagon G8. As a maintenance platoon leader, it is my responsibility to coordinate all support from these civilian and military organizations in order to ensure the platoons receive the support they need.

Active reporting and briefing senior leaders on the company’s capability when it comes to our equipment is a major role of the maintenance platoon leader. I conduct daily briefs on the status of our RCPs and stay on top of various trackers that depict our company mission readiness and combat power. I also manage all services for all equipment to ensure minimal operational impact.

As an engineer officer, I understand the line platoon leader’s mission set and priorities, and can help form proper prioritization of maintenance concerns for both administrative and mission generated deadlines. This method has allowed the commander’s intent to be fully supported and creates a shared understanding among all leadership. With my background as an engineer officer and the skills found within the platoon, we have the ability to understand an RCP’s needs, and at after three months, there have been no missions canceled within the company due to maintenance readiness.

As a maintenance platoon leader, you are put into a position where you become the subject matter expert and the best suited to advise the commander on the unit’s mission capable status. For leaders who are put into these positions of expertise, regardless of your background, the best thing to do is to become the most knowledgeable at what others are looking to you on.

Maintenance platoon Soldiers conduct a semi-annual service on an M-870 trailer. Eight dedicated mechanics keep the company’s vehicles rolling, as well as provide organic recovery capability to two route clearance packages.

Maintenance platoon Soldiers conduct a semi-annual service on an M-870 trailer. Eight dedicated mechanics keep the company’s vehicles rolling, as well as provide organic recovery capability to two route clearance packages.

The maintenance platoon leader position is not found in an engineer company’s modification table of organization and equipment (MTOE). However, there are numerous ways having that position filled can benefit the company.

One way is as professional development. Young officers are future company executive officers and commanders. The time spent with a maintenance platoon will prove invaluable later in that leader’s career.

Another can be seen through a key skill that I have acquired as a maintenance platoon leader, and that is how to identify maintenance errors quickly. I am now able to look at reports or statistics and know very quickly if something is wrong with the data. Discrepancies with service packets or schedules can easily be overlooked by many who don’t have the experience of seeing them so often. And finding these inaccuracies has proven, on many occasions, to be the difference between mission failure and mission success within the company.

I have had the opportunity in this position to work hand in hand with the 91 and 92 MOS’ and have been able to create a bond between them and the engineers of our company. Prior to my arrival, looking at the company, anyone could tell there was a distinct separation between the 1st, 2nd and maintenance platoons. Many of the maintenance Soldiers within the platoon have been excited when given the opportunity to teach the engineers about their expertise and have eagerly given time to train others on welding, recovery and other aspects of maintenance. On the opposite spectrum, they have also enthusiastically participated in route clearance and horizontal engineering training.

Another notable advantage of the position while in a deployed environment is that it allows freedom of maneuver for our company executive officer to focus on retrograde and other operations, since I am handing the maintenance issues. During this historic time for our military in Afghanistan, retrograde operations have proved to be as time-consuming as our route clearance mission. Removing maintenance operations and issues from the executive officer’s responsibility has been vital in conducting successful retrograde operations. While in a garrison environment the executive office would have the ability to focus efforts on company resourcing and training needs if the company had a maintenance platoon leader.

Officers are an integral part of the team, and increasing their maintenance knowledge further strengthens their skill sets and their ability to lead. As an officer, it is important to know enough about everything so that no matter the situation or circumstance, you have the confidence and competence to lead the team.

Chapter 7 of Army Doctrine Reference Publication (ADRP) 6-22 discusses how leaders must develop themselves with continuous learning and broadening experiences. It defines broadening as “education and training opportunities, assignments and experiences that provide exposure outside the leader’s branch or functional area competencies.”

By expanding one’s capabilities and increasing knowledge beyond your branch and current expertise, you are becoming an informed leader. This increases overall awareness and promotes shared understanding within our Army.

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Category: Deployed Forces, News

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