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Fabricating to Save Soldiers’ Lives

Soldiers saving Soldiers lives: Hollywood producers and book publishers around the world dedicate volumes to combat arms Soldiers on the battlefield going beyond the call of duty. However, another warrior—little known to others but in high demand on today’s battlefield—is out there working to save the lives of their comrades in arms. You see them everyday; yet, you may not recognize the contributions they are making to the safety and welfare of Soldiers in the battlespace. They are the allied trades technicians and mechanics.

Allied trades technicians and mechanics take an innovative approach to producing lifesaving products and enhancements. These unsung heroes use existing materials and products in innovative ways to give the Soldier on patrol that needed edge against the enemy. From fabricating new tools for explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) robots to refining older designs for high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV) improvised explosive device (IED) rollers, today’s allied trades mechanics are essential combat multipliers in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In garrison, the Army takes the approach that the time and resources required to fabricate or repair a particular item are not economical; everything is ordered or purchased with a credit card. Thus, our garrison allied trades technicians and mechanics are relegated to routine repair activities, extracting bolts and occasionally plasma cutting [cutting steel and other metals using a plasma torch] or spot welding. They have little opportunity to be innovative and demonstrate their creativity.

In a deployed environment, welders and machinists become a central component of the maintenance company’s capability and flexibility. Who else in the battlespace could take a squad leader’s concept of adding ballistic glass to the M1114 up-armored HMMWV’s gunner’s turret to turn it into “Pope’s Glass?” [“Pope’s Glass” is the term used by Soldiers to describe the 2-inch ballistic glass shield installed around the gunner’s turret because it reminds them of the bulletproof glass box that the Pope travels in.] Who else could fabricate a special tool from stock aluminum for a field service representative?

The U.S. industrial base does not deploy with the Army. The allied trades mechanics must take concepts from the whiteboard and turn them into lifesaving products or needed tools. These tools are often duplicated by the industrial base and sold back to the Army. Allied trades mechanics are not concerned with trying to patent their ideas or products. They are generally too busy finishing the mission and getting to the next job. They want to get their products out to the field and in use.

A perfect example of a tool fabricated by allied trades mechanics is the HMMWV IED roller that two noncommissioned officers from the 3d Forward Support Battalion (FSB) Service and Recovery (S&R) Section designed and built. Pressure-activated IEDs were common within the 3d FSB’s battlespace, and something was needed to activate them before a vehicle made contact. Thus was born the design for the HMMWV IED roller. Two rotations later, that same design is still being passed around and built. Each unit is putting its own spin on it, but the basic design is still being used. The allied trades community uses Internet working groups to pass designs and techniques around the force. With the original IED roller design still making the rounds, allied trades technicians from the 512th Maintenance Company improved the original design and spread their improvements across the 15th Sustainment Brigade.

The machinists and welders not only improve on previous designs; they also think outside the box and create products from scratch. When an S&R section earns a reputation around camp as outside-the-box thinkers and quality builders, work comes their way. An EOD team leader brought a challenge to the 98th Maintenance Company. The EOD team was using an entrenching tool jury-rigged to the front of their robot to dig and move objects. One of the maintenance company’s machinists developed a lightweight, multifunctional tool that increased the functionality of the EOD robot, called the Hobart scoop (named after the sergeant who designed it).

That EOD team became true believers and realized what a combat multiplier the allied trades mechanics are in the deployed environment. Bringing two blown-up robot bodies to the 98th Maintenance Company’s S&R Section, the EOD knew they were taking a long shot. Their command had already told the team that no replacement robots were available and that new robot bodies from the continental United States would take a long time to arrive. The 98th Maintenance Company team took the two broken robot bodies and rebuilt them into one functional piece. That type of work would never have been done, or even attempted, in a garrison environment.

In our Army’s push toward modularity and transformation, every section and military occupational specialty (MOS) is being evaluated to determine its future viability. If the decision to downsize or combine MOSs and sections were to be based on garrison workload and production, the allied trades community would be a ripe target. Yet, when viewed through the deployment prism, that target disappears. As the 15th Sustainment Brigade learned in Iraq, allied trades mechanics play an invaluable part in the field.
ALOG

Major Thomas J. Cunningham was the Maintenance Officer for the 15th Sustainment Brigade at Forward Operating Base Taji, Iraq. He is a graduate of the Armor Officer Basic Course, the Ordnance Officer Transition Course, the Combined Logistics Officers Advanced Course, the Support Operations Course, and the Army Command and General Staff College.