TF Mustang maintainers sustain flight operations in the CENTCOM AOR

TF Mustang maintainers sustain flight operations in the CENTCOM AOR

13-Mar-2023 Source: US National Guard

With over six months of overseas duty completed, aviation Soldiers of 36th Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB), “Task Force Mustang,” continue to perform aircraft maintenance and repairs, supporting numerous flight missions across the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibilities (CENTCOM AOR).

Aircraft maintainers and repairers of Delta Company, Company, 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment, General Support Aviation Battalion (GSAB), 36th CAB, deliver nonstop service to the 36th CAB’s assigned rotary wing aircraft at multiple airfields and outposts across the Middle East.

U.S. Army Capt. Reneillio R. Morrison, commander of Delta Company, “Desperados,” leads and manages the unit’s efforts from Camp Buehring (CBKU).

“Our maintenance operations focus on supporting our pilots by generating combat power,” said Morrison. “Aviation is inherently dangerous, so it’s our job to support our organization by mitigating risk through decisive decision-making, experienced maintenance support, and providing safe flyable aircraft.”

Morrison was pleased by the operations conducted by his Soldiers.

“60% of our Soldiers are here on their very first deployment, and have leveled up on their maintenance skills,” he said. “Their commitment, extraordinary dedication, and professionalism to provide safe and ready-to-launch aircraft supporting various missions throughout the CENTCOM AOR manifests through their work.”

Morrison also serves as a UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter pilot in command with previous experience in supporting state emergency response missions, as well as civilian experience in flying various fixed wing aircraft for PSA Airlines back in Texas.

“Pilots from across GSAB have been able to move tons of cargo around the AOR efficiently, while using fewer blade hours, thanks to the skilled work of our aviation maintainers,” he added.

Supporting Morrison’s testament to the unit’s hard work and success in aviation maintenance is 1st Sgt. Jeffrey P. Bragg, company first sergeant of the Desperados.

“The biggest thing for these Soldiers, is that they’ve learned and applied a lot from our senior enlisted,” said Bragg. “Many of our Soldiers arrived here straight out of Advanced Infantry Training, and our senior enlisted have had to manage maintenance schedules, while also teaching all of them on how to safely work on the aircraft.”

Bragg carries a diverse career in military and civilian law enforcement with multiple combat tours involving Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom since 2003. Now being his sixth deployment, this is his first tour with the 36th CAB.

“These guys have been working on these aircraft since we mobilized at Fort Hood back in June. We’ve seen them develop into field experts,” said Bragg. “Being able to mentor them on how to maintain their daily operations while training new maintainers has paid off well.”

Also leveraging his civilian experience as deputy chief of police for the Dallas VA hospital with over 20 years of service, Bragg noted the importance of keeping his Soldiers on task, regardless of mission location in the Middle East.

“Maintaining a positive work environment and understanding how our work on these aircraft contributes to the overall mission keeps our Soldiers motivated,” he explained. “Our aircraft play a critical role in transporting people and equipment. If they are not maintained well, our coalition partners in Iraq, Jordan, or Syria cannot accomplish their missions.”

The big picture is also vast for the Desperados alone, as they provide maintenance and back shop support to Black Hawk helicopters and Apache helicopters alongside maintainers from the adjacent battalions. Just about every aircraft across the CAB will have received inspection work from their Soldiers.

Senior enlisted leaders throughout the company share a common belief that each and every Soldier is vital to the well-being of their formation.

Sgt. 1st Class Victor Griffin, a maintenance platoon sergeant, served in Army aviation under the Texas Army National Guard since the beginning of the Iraq War, and was assigned to the 36th CAB when it was reactivated in 2004.

“When I first joined we were known as Golf Company,” said Griffin. “Over the years, I’ve served as a flight engineer and quality control specialist with GSAB.”

This is Griffin’s fourth deployment and second tour in supporting Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), now ensuring the safe maintenance training and operations, to include resource management support.

“A lot of unit restructuring happened over the past couple decades, but our role in every operation has been relatively the same over those years,” said Griffin. “For day-to-day operations, mission success is dependent on our commitment to safety in everything we do.”

Demonstrating attention to detail over every safety precaution between aircraft and repairers in his section, Staff Sgt. Timothy Hollen, quality control NCOIC for Black Hawk maintenance at Camp Buehring, instills in his team to set the highest standards.

“The reality of every maintainer’s situation is that whether they get to fly in these aircraft or not, every time they touch a wrench, we [as a team] hold somebody’s life in our hands,” said Hollen. “We press this on our Soldiers every time they are about to work on any component, so that they are abiding to our maintenance levels, and assuring the integrity of every air frame together.”

Hollen is no stranger to the challenges that come with maintaining aircraft on a rigorous schedule. He is assigned to the 2-149th GSAB, from the Wyoming Army National Guard, and is currently on his sixth overseas deployment. Before joining the Army National Guard, Hollen served in the U.S. Marine Corps, specializing in maintaining variants of the CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter.

“When are on a tight work schedule, we may be working to maintain a UH-60L model one moment and then switch to a UH-60M in the next,” said Hollen. “In such situations, we must be prepared to adjust our processes, which requires having the right personnel and resources available for both airframes, despite their similarities.”

The U.S. Army uses a five-level system to classify maintenance activities for rotary wing aircraft. Each level has specific tasks and requirements that must be met to ensure the safety and reliability of the aircraft. As the levels increase, the complexity and scope of the maintenance activities also increase.

Maintenance Level 0 (ML 0), as required for pilots, are pre-flight inspections conducted to ensure aircraft is ready with all systems functioning properly. ML 1 thru 2 are in-depth inspections and tasks carried out by aircrews and support personnel with applicable supervisions, and ML 3 thru 4 are component repairs, and ultimately, complete overhaul and repair of aircraft for advanced and specialized maintenance personnel.

Sgt. Kevin Vasquez, maintenance section NCOIC and certified ML 3 under Desperados Company, supervises his team of maintainers and repairers for the CH-47 Chinook helicopters.

“Our teams work 10-hour shifts,” said Vasquez. “In several instances, we have worked as long as 14 hours, but only because of workload schedule and specific mission requirements.”

Vasquez has only served under the GSAB since joining the service, and leverages his knowledge as an electrician and commissioning engineer to support his Soldiers. With help from his team, he stood up new air-conditioned workspaces in their designated maintenance bay for the summer months of the deployment.

“Chinooks can be more rugged than Black Hawk helicopters, but are the most complicated rotary wing due to its larger airframe and tandem rotor system,” said Vasquez. “The duration of flight status ultimately depends on experience levels and efforts of the team.”

Because of the airframe layout and size, he noted that it’s also common for avionics faults to occur in one area then relocate to another. Records of when such faults happen, to include any required repairs conducted, help provide valuable information for analyzing trends and identifying potential issues that require modifications or improvements to ensure aircraft is safe to fly.

In August 2022, within a month of the 2-149th GSAB’s arrival in theater, the U.S. Army grounded its entire fleet of CH-47 models due to a series of engine fires caused by faulty O-ring components that had been distributed to every Chinook Company earlier in the year. However, Chinook maintainers were able to reinstate the CAB’s CH-47s back into flight status in a matter of days once the Army aviation community was able to identify the required fix and distribute all necessary corrective measures.

Rotating with Vasquez’s team is Staff Sgt. Nicholas Shupe and his maintainers.

“The biggest challenge we had when we first got here was finding our battle rhythm,” said Shupe. “But once our teams started to mesh and the gears were turning, it really didn’t take long for all of us to get an established operations tempo.”

Shupe is among the very few Army Reserve Soldiers who also elected to extend his deployment time with Task Force Mustang after serving in the 11th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, “Task Force Eagles,” since early last year.

“We take into account all actions to keep flight risk low and prevent the loss of lives and equipment,” he added. “I am very pleased with the level of systems knowledge my teammates possess. Everyone has been able to develop and perfect their craft as maintainers here.”

Each maintainer across the company has at least attained a new maintenance level since boots on ground. Collectively, across CENTCOM AOR, Task Force Mustang continues to record well over 20,000 flight hours from their pilots, thanks to the general support provided by all maintainers.

With over halfway of the deployment complete, senior leaders prepare their latest assessments, to include lessons learned.

“I’ve always been taught that when you take over a new duty or leadership position, you must leave the place of mission better than when you got there,” 1st Sgt. Bragg concluded. “Whether a private, sergeant, senior leader, or commander, that will be everybody’s mindset when we arrive to our last day here.”

Until then, Desperados Company continues to drive its maintenance operations while preparing a seamless transition for the next Delta Company replacing them later in the year.

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