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Maintenance Evolution

In April and May 1976, I was a young Soldier working in the S–3 shop of the 1st Brigade, 2d Armored Division, at Fort Hood, Texas. I was unhappy because, although I had trained to become an armor crewman, I was assigned as a light vehicle driver and the assistant schools noncommissioned officer (NCO). However, I didn’t realize at the time that I was in a position to witness dramatic changes in my branch of service. In my schools NCO role, I was tasked with helping prepare handouts for Major General George S. Patton, Jr.’s conference on the concept of operation for the next phase in land warfare—the combined arms team. At that conference, the general unleashed new ideas and precepts that evolved into the land-air-sea battle concept that the Army would use to conduct war for the next three decades.

Today’s increasing operating tempo and the advent of the joint force headquarters concept are causing the lines of command to blur. The face of deploying units has become that of a composite force in which Army National Guard elements sometimes command Active Army and Army Reserve elements. The lines of command in the maintenance community also have been blurred with the advent of the two-level maintenance program. Combat service support unit structure must evolve. This is especially true in the maintenance community, where methods must be developed that will allow for the optimum use of available assets.

I believe that the Army needs to take a hard look at the structural and command lines between the Active Army and the Reserve components as they affect unit formation, maintenance, and location. This is particularly important as the functional composition of the Reserve components changes (more military police units and fewer field artillery units, for example) and as base realignment and closure plans affect the locations of National Guard armories and Army Reserve centers.

Cross-leveling of support activities needs to be established in order to properly use assets that can be located as much as 100 miles from their supporting maintenance facilities. I suggest that a new type of maintenance plan be developed that uses “maintenance cells” to provide support. An all-Army maintenance cell would provide maintenance services to any unit within a specific geographic area regardless of its component affiliation. It could be affiliated with and operated as a specific unit (Active or Reserve), or it could be a regional cell operated by a combination of Active and Reserve personnel. Army equipment would receive maintenance from the closest Army facility.

The G–4 for the major Army command owning the equipment would coordinate the funding for the parts, and the labor costs would be shared among the units in the region. Funding for the parts would be the most significant controller. A unit needing maintenance could order needed parts and deliver them to the maintenance facility doing the work, order the parts to be delivered directly to the facility, or allocate funds to the facility so it could order what it needs.

Laterally transferring man-hours could be accomplished administratively. A maintenance request could be used to account for man-hours, regardless of ownership of the item being repaired. Savings of 8 to 12 man-hours could be realized in the time needed to recover the vehicle, repair it, and return it to its unit. Some limited versions of the maintenance cell concept already are being used. However, the concept should be implemented Army wide. Joint service and interagency cooperation in planning for new facilities has been considered—mostly for cohabitation. However, limited efforts are being made toward sharing the cost of vehicle repair facilities.

I believe that, as the Army moves closer to modularity, a faster approach to applying the maintenance cell concept to existing facilities and resources will be needed. It does not behoove organizations within the same geographical area to duplicate their efforts. Moreover, those who control funds should not devote more time and money to dysfunctional or archaic systems. Better business is not bigger business; better business is smarter business.

Master Sergeant James I. “Tanker” Adams, Jr., ILARNG (Ret.), recently retired as an equipment specialist with the Surface Maintenance Office, Illinois Army National Guard. He has associate’s degrees in liberal arts and human resources and is a graduate of the Ordnance Basic and Advanced Noncommissioned Officer Courses.