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Maintenance Management in the Heavy BCT

Leaders at all levels of the Army emphasize the importance of logistics and the freedom of maneuver it allows tactical commanders in the execution of combat operations. Of the tactical logistics functions, maintenance is especially critical. Soldiers must have confidence that the equipment they use will function when they press the button, turn the key, or pull the trigger.

A commander must consider several elements, or “building blocks,” when developing a maintenance program for his unit. This article focuses on maintenance operations for the brigade combat team (BCT) at both the forward support company (FSC) and the brigade support battalion (BSB) levels. It is meant to provide a commander with additional insight about his maintenance program before deployment to a combat training center or theater of operations.

Maintenance Management in FSCs and FMCs

The maintenance control officer, commonly referred to as the “shop officer,” is the senior maintenance officer in the maneuver battalion’s FSC or the BSB’s field maintenance company (FMC). He is responsible for providing field maintenance to his supported battalion or, in the case of the FMC shop officer, to specified BCT units and backup support to the FSC. He also serves as the battalion maintenance officer. This gives him a great deal of responsibility.

Under the previous edition of Department of the Army (DA) Pamphlet 600–3, Commissioned Officer Development and Career Management, senior Ordnance Corps lieutenants assume the position of shop officer after 12 months of experience as maintenance platoon leaders. However, because of the manpower demands created by transformation and the Global War on Terrorism, lieutenants, some of whom are Quartermaster or Transportation officers, often are assigned as shop officers directly from the Basic Officer Leader Course.

Changes to the modification tables of organization and equipment (MTOEs) of FSC maintenance sections also have resulted in growing pains for the shop officer. Sergeants first class are authorized in the positions of shop office maintenance control sergeant and company repair team noncommissioned officer (NCO) in charge. However, the MTOEs do not authorize a battalion maintenance sergeant at either the master sergeant or sergeant first class level to serve as an integrator and direct assistant to the shop officer. As a result of their inexperience and lack of senior NCO support, many shop officers who deploy to the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California, have difficulty executing maintenance management techniques.

Shop Officer Responsibilities

Field Manual-Interim (FMI) 4–90.1, Heavy Brigade Combat Team Logistics, defines the responsibilities of the shop officer, or maintenance control officer, as follows—

    The maintenance control officer [MCO] is the principal assistant to the commander, both battalion and FSC, on all matters pertaining to the field maintenance mission. The MCO serves as maintenance officer for the maneuver battalion and FSC using SAMS–1 [Standard Army Maintenance System-1], SAMS–2, BCS3 [Battle Command Sustainment Support System] and FBCB2 [Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below]. He is also is the senior person in the UMCP [unit maintenance collection point] and is responsible for the local security requirements and tying in with adjacent units. He is responsible to the commander for the management of the combined efforts of the maintenance control section, maintenance section and service and recovery section, and the maintenance system teams . . .
The shop officer is responsible for the combat readiness of his unit. Therefore, it is essential that he be aware of his roles and responsibilities and the capabilities and limitations of his organization.

To ensure the successful execution of his company’s mission, the shop officer must do the following.

Evaluate and ensure the quality of all maintenance completed by the maintenance platoon. Having company repair teams embedded with their habitual maneuver companies increases the complexity of this task. The shop officer must coordinate primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency methods of communication between the UMCP—the location of maintenance Standard Army Management Information Systems (STAMIS)—and forward locations on the battlefield. An effective way of accomplishing this may be to “redball” critical repair parts forward and send DA Forms 5988E (Equipment Inspection and Maintenance Worksheet) and changes to maintenance status by reverse LOGPACs (logistics packages).

Develop a training and cross-training plan for maintenance personnel. The shop officer and his maintenance warrant officers are responsible for ensuring the technical proficiency of maintenance Soldiers in the battalion. Because commanders and senior NCOs are focused primarily on tactical training, technical proficiency in various aspects of maintenance military occupational specialties (MOSs) may be sacrificed. The shop officer and warrant officers must develop a plan for ensuring that technical competence is not degraded. Ways to maintain maintenance MOS proficiency include keeping critical MOS job books on each maintenance Soldier, conducting monthly low-density MOS training across the battalion, and coordinating with civilian agencies to provide training.

Coordinate the recovery of battalion equipment. Lack of planning for primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency means of communication can cause a significant time lag between vehicle breakdown, request for recovery assets, deployment of recovery assets, and arrival of recovery assets at the breakdown site. In theater, the lack of an effective recovery plan may endanger the lives of mechanics and recovery vehicle operators. Shop officers should provide input to battalion planners on maintenance procedures during combat operations. This can be done by incorporating maintenance operations standing operating procedures (SOPs) into battalion tactical SOPs so that all personnel in the battalion know how to request, receive, and incorporate maintenance support into their tactical operations. These procedures should include battle drills for recovery asset requests, section precombat checks and precombat inspections, and communications among the supported unit, the recovery team, and the shop office.

Monitor the status of equipment undergoing repairs, and determine the status of the repair parts required to complete those repairs. The shop officer must communicate daily with the BSB support operations (SPO) maintenance officer and supply support activity (SSA) accountable officer to receive updated status on repair parts. In high-intensity conflict rotations at the NTC, this communication frequently is hindered, resulting in an unclear picture of the BCT’s current and projected combat power. The shop officer, battalion executive officer (XO), and BSB SPO must ensure that daily updates are communicated vertically and horizontally to all maintenance managers in the BCT. These updates should include improved SAMS–2 026 reports (Maintenance Summary by Battalion); DA Forms 5988E, turn-in and processing cycles; priority 02 (life or death or total mission stoppage), 05 (severe impact to mission or reportable items), and 12 (routine) parts ordered by unit; and workable and nonworkable backlogs. [Nonworkable backlogs include equipment for which either the repair parts or the mechanics are not available to complete the work.]

Perform maintenance according to the priorities established by the maneuver battalion commander. With modularity, a significant amount of logistics capability resides in the FSC and, in most cases, the BSB commander no longer has the organic capability to provide support beyond the capacity of the BSB’s assets. As a result, maneuver battalion leaders must be intimately involved in their maintenance operations. Current and upcoming maintenance priorities should be discussed as part of mission operation orders and unit battle update briefs. This ensures that maneuver company commanders are using their company repair teams according to the battalion commander’s guidance. The shop officer must provide sound guidance to the maneuver battalion XO, who is the material readiness officer of the battalion.

Maintenance Management at the BSB Level

The principal maintenance operator for the support operations officer and BSB commander is the SPO maintenance officer. He recommends the allocation of resources to the supported unit’s chain of command and coordinates maintenance company operations. He also forecasts and monitors the workload for all equipment by type.

The SPO maintenance officer is normally a senior logistics first lieutenant awaiting orders for the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course or a career course graduate in line for command of an FMC or FSC. He is assisted by a maintenance NCO, typically an MOS 63-series (mechanic) master sergeant or sergeant first class. The maintenance officer and NCO use SAMS–2 to collect and process maintenance operations data and assist in the management of maintenance operations. SAMS–2 processes the maintenance information needed to control workload, manpower, and supplies. SAMS–2 is designed to assist in both maintenance and readiness management.

The SPO maintenance cell also works with the SSA accountable officer to develop plans and policies for reparable exchange and class IX (repair parts) operations. The SPO maintenance officer monitors shop production and job status reports in the FMC and FSCs. He also monitors the combat spares and coordinates the status of critical parts with the sustainment brigade. For unserviceable items, the Standard Army Retail Supply System-1 (SARSS–1), located in the SSA, generates disposition instructions based on the guidance of brigade and division commanders. Possible instructions include evacuation, cannibalization, and controlled exchange policies.

The SPO maintenance officer and brigade S–4 review backlogs of critical weapon systems. For any additional support requirements, the BSB SPO coordinates through the sustainment brigade’s materiel management branch.

Ensuring Maximum Combat Power

The SPO maintenance officer must take several actions to ensure that maximum combat power is built in support of the BCT commander’s intent. He must do the following.

Monitor the BCT’s maintenance posture using SAMS­2.
Properly applying and using the reports and matrices generated by SAMS­2 will help the maintenance officer execute his mission. BCT shop officers must understand the timeline and standards for submitting STAMIS data. Meeting the established BCT standard should not be an issue when the Unit Level Logistics System (ULLS) and SAMS are collocated with the shop officer. Typically, failure to achieve the standard results from a lack of command emphasis and insufficient systems training for automated logistical specialists. A way to counter this is for the maintenance officer to track and brief the status of unit STAMIS data transfer at a regular brigade maintenance meeting, allowing the BCT XO and BSB commander to focus resources on the problem. The maintenance officer also should talk with the BSB command sergeant major to ensure that all SAMS operators in the BCT have additional skill identifier B5 (SAMS operator) before they are assigned to a shop office or the BSB SPO section.

Forecast and monitor the workload for all equipment, by type. Because the heavy BCT maintenance meeting primarily focuses on tracked and wheeled combat systems, other combat systems typically are not discussed in detail or not discussed at all. Maintenance of power-generation and communications equipment and small arms can be just as critical to the success of the BCT as maintenance of an Abrams tank or a Bradley fighting vehicle. The maintenance officer should discuss shop workloads with shop officers weekly, including an extensive review of the SAMS­1 022 (Backlog Report). The maintenance officer should also track the number of jobs that have been closed out in SAMS­1 but have not been closed out in ULLS and the jobs awaiting pickup from the FMC.

Coordinate maintenance priorities with the brigade S­4. Just as the shop officer recommends and coordinates maintenance priorities with the XO of his supported battalion, the SPO maintenance officer and the brigade S­4 must recommend and coordinate maintenance priorities with the BCT XO. These priorities should be reviewed in the brigade maintenance meeting to ensure that all units understand and comply with the BCT commander’s guidance, ensuring unity of effort among the maintainers of the BCT.

Track and investigate class IX high-priority requisitions. One of the SPO maintenance officer’s most important responsibilities is to track critical repair parts for the BCT. Units that have trouble with parts research and tracking in the NTC tactical environment frequently look back to an echelons-above-brigade capability to track parts. Units tend not to prioritize the maintenance officer’s efforts, which causes many hours to be spent expediting the order of a part for a noncritical combat system. The BCT XO, in conjunction with the BSB SPO, must identify the roles of maintenance managers at each level in the research of critical repair parts so that the maintenance officer can focus on the critical parts that will directly affect the BCT’s ability to accomplish its mission. The chart at left depicts a recommendation for the responsibilities of each maintenance manager in the heavy BCT.

Provide recommendations to the BCT S­4 on how to redistribute FSC maintenance assets within the BCT.
Because maneuver commanders have their own FSCs, they tend to hold on to their assets. As a result, the BSB commander cannot directly influence the maintenance posture of the BCT because the BSB’s FMC does not have a robust reinforcing support capability. Therefore, the maintenance officer should monitor FSC workloads and be ready to recommend through the BCT S­4 to the BCT XO the reallocation of FSC maintenance elements if necessary. Maneuver units must transmit combat slants (the number of systems on hand versus the number of systems fully mission capable) and their maintenance status electronically to the brigade S­4 and BSB SPO. This allows the SPO to identify problems quickly and allocate resources more efficiently. FBCB2 also provides map graphics that portray unit locations, grid coordinates, and terrain features so that the SPO can track maintenance on the battlefield.

Brigade Maintenance Meeting

The single most important tool in the heavy BCT for identifying and overcoming maintenance issues is a regular maintenance meeting. The goal of the maintenance meeting is to provide a clear picture of the BCT’s current maintenance posture and to set the conditions needed to produce maximum combat power for the next mission. Several factors determine how effective a BCT’s maintenance meeting will be, but none has a more positive effect than the attendance and active participation of the BCT’s leaders. If maintenance is a priority to the BCT leaders, it will become a priority to the units within the brigade.

Here are some factors that must be considered in order for the maintenance meeting to run efficiently.

Time. Mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available, time available, and civil considerations (METT–TC) will always drive the time of the maintenance meeting. However, the time must be set according to the established supply and maintenance data processing windows so that meeting participants have the most current 026 report possible. Units should try to use a 026 printout that is less than 8 hours old. The meeting also should conclude so that enough time is available to request that critical class IX parts be placed on the evening LOGPAC from the sustainment brigade.

Location. Establish a standard meeting location. This will alleviate confusion if communication breaks down. Units still will know where and, generally, when the meeting will occur. Having the meeting where the unit attendees can conduct other business, such as in the brigade support area, will help maximize the time that task force maintenance managers have to build combat power.

Agenda. Have a posted agenda that supports the BCT commander’s priorities for the next missions and focuses on building combat power. This will center the meeting’s purpose. By briefing the administrative data for all attendees at the start of the meeting and allowing units to leave after briefing their task force status, critical players will have more time to build combat power. The information the attendees will be expected to brief, such as current slants, expected slants, and the number of circle X systems, should be specified on the agenda. ("Circle X" are systems that are not mission capable according to the technical manual but are placed temporarily in a partially mission capable status by the commander for a specific mission or event.) A BCT sustainment meeting that includes representatives of other logistics commodity areas, such as combat health support and supply managers, should be conducted in conjunction with the maintenance meeting. The chart at right is an agenda that has been effective for units deployed to the NTC.

Attendees. The BCT XO should chair all maintenance meetings in order to be the “hammer” and ensure the meeting runs efficiently. As chairman, he speaks with the commander’s authority and can enforce standards on those units that either do not attend the meeting or are unprepared to brief their status. He can provide direct feedback to the BCT commander on the BCT’s combat readiness. Another key player is the BSB SPO, who is responsible for taking action on any shortcomings that surface during the meeting. Other required attendees should include the maintenance officer, a materiel management center representative (if available from the sustainment brigade), the brigade S–4 or his representative, each battalion or task force XO or shop officer, the separate company XO or motor sergeants, the SSA officer in charge, the BSB shop officer, the logistics assistance officer, the combat service support automation management officer, and a BCT Army Oil Analysis Program representative.

Once the framework for a successful meeting has been set, direct support (DS) maintenance managers must not waste the time of the supported units by coming to the meeting unprepared. To ensure that everyone is prepared, a pre-maintenance meeting should be conducted by the maintenance officer, materiel management center representative, shop officers, and SSA officer. The following actions should be taken during this meeting: a through scrub of the 026 printout; update of the status on the nonstockage list of parts required; and identification of critical class IX awaiting pickup, required class IX available on the authorized stockage list, jobs requiring a DS workorder or DS support, and units that may require organizational maintenance reinforcement. The goal for the pre-maintenance meeting is to synchronize DS efforts and resolve issues before the BCT maintenance meeting.

The final “must have” during the brigade maintenance meeting is a contract. A contract, simply put, is a closed-loop reporting system. Contracts should specify who will take specific actions, when those actions will be completed, and who will report their status. Contracts should be tracked and briefed by the SPO or maintenance officer. Tracking contracts during the maintenance meeting, reviewing the responsibilities of personnel before they depart, and closing out contracts before and during follow-on maintenance meetings are fundamental to the success of the maintenance mission. Not every issue should be considered a contract—only those requiring actions over and above normal, day-to-day operations.

Thoughtful preparation for maintenance management will pay dividends during a deployment, whether it is to the desert of Fort Irwin or Baghdad. Commanders should encourage the development of their subordinates and train them in the fundamentals of maintenance management so that they have confidence in themselves and their equipment. Commanders should ask themselves, “Would I stake my life right now on the condition of my equipment?” If the answer is anything other than an immediate “yes,” then improvements can and must be made within their formations.

Captain Eric A. McCoy is assigned to the Army Student Detachment while he completes studies at Georgetown University. When he wrote this article, he was the Brigade Combat Team Maintenance Trainer for the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. He holds a B.S. degree in mental health from Morgan State University and an M.S. degree in administration from Central Michigan University. He is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course and the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course.