Aviation Branch Maintenance Officer / By CW5 Leonte I. Cardona: Within the Army team, Soldiers have unique positions within critical mission sets. In Army Aviation, we continuously operate, employ, maintain and manage attack, assault, or cargo assets in support of the ground combatant commander.
A 101st Combat Avn. Bde. UH-60 at Forward Operating Base Bastion, Afghanistan. AMOs are critical to generating the sorties the joint team expects from Army aviation. / U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY CW5 LEONTE I. CARDONA
As a branch, we conduct individual, crew and collective training to focus and prepare our personnel, resulting in the best aircrews in the world conducting the most complex missions in the most austere conditions. A critical and necessary aspect of these complex missions, but one where we can improve all levels of training, is aviation maintenance.
While the maintenance community achieved great success during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, contractors conducted a large portion of phase maintenance while Soldiers focused on launch, recover, launch responsibilities. Leaders and Soldiers have become increasingly reliant and accepting of this contractor augmentation; as a result, our expertise in conducting and managing aviation maintenance needs to be improved.
The current funding posture will not support large contractor augmentation; however, today’s operational tempo should allow adequate time to train our leaders and Soldiers to efficiently and effectively maintain and manage our aviation assets. The Aviation Warrant Officer Cohort must take the lead in order to ensure our units can continue to deploy, fight and win.
The AMO Mission
As aviation maintenance officers (AMOs), our mission is to “Sustain and Regenerate Combat Power” – making all other aviation roles and missions possible. The maintenance officer career path is filled with the daily stresses of long hours and job satisfaction from repairing aircraft, troubleshooting issues, and training Soldiers in proper maintenance procedures. The following thoughts will hopefully assist warrant officers as we collectively take on the mission of strengthening and regenerating our maintenance capabilities.
The initial focus of every junior officer must be in discovering and mastering their individual role and mission within the unit. For WO1s and CW2s, this translates into honing their flying skills, culminating in the achievement of Pilot-In-Command. Junior officers should also seek guidance and mentorship from senior aviators on future career track progression. Unfortunately, a lack of self-education, too little time spent considering career options, and concerns about promotion have plagued junior aviators, causing hasty decisions in choosing their career track.
Commanders and senior warrant officers have the responsibility to recommend the correct career path for junior aviators, based on individual aptitude, drive, and leadership attributes. As leaders, we must address this issue and ensure our junior officers are properly trained in both flying skills and career management in order to improve our Soldiers, the Branch, and the Army.
Successful AMOs possess dedication, commitment, and strong leadership and management skills. They organize and prioritize personnel and equipment, balance competing demands and coordinate with supporting elements, while simultaneously ensuring compliance with all aspects of proper maintenance, resulting in safe, airworthy aircraft for our aviation crews and customers. Although this role is always challenging, the satisfaction that comes from providing mission-ready aircraft on the flight line is both extremely personal and substantial.
New AMOs start out at company/platoon level, where responsibilities encompass all aspects of maintenance for assigned aircraft and coordination with both the platoon sergeant and platoon leader, to ensure training plans meet but don’t exceed scheduled maintenance capabilities.
Understanding of higher headquarters’ intent is necessary to guide lower-level execution plans. To fulfill this requirement and maintain situational awareness, AMOs must know assigned aircraft posture in detail, attend all production control (PC) meetings, and should attend training meetings to ensure sustainability of flight hour and training plans.
Company level AMOs will practice skills taught during the Aviation Maintenance Managers Course (AMMC) and Maintenance Test Pilot Course (MTPC), progressing from rote learning through correlation and understanding of all maintenance tasks. They will learn to manage a small scale maintenance program, a fundamental and necessary foundation for a successful career as a maintenance officer.
The Next Step
Upon mastering skills at the company level, every warrant officer should attend Professional Military Education (PME) as early as possible. Each level of PME must be attended concurrently with increased responsibility and early enough to assist with future assignments. With the operational tempo decreasing, commanders and senior warrant officers must support the future success of our best AMOs by emphasizing PME attendance.
Strong performance at all levels and PME attendance are two essential ingredients necessary to remain competitive for promotion and assignment to the next key job on the AMO career path – Production Control Officer (PCO).
The officer in this critical position can create or destroy the success of the battalion. The PCO’s primary role is maintenance management within the battalion and ensuring assets from the aviation maintenance company (AMC) are used effectively to support the line companies.
Successful management by company AMOs is key to the PCO’s effective use of available AMC assets as well as coordinating support from the aviation support battalion (ASB) for component repair and pass-back maintenance (e.g., phase maintenance inspections).
The PCO affects maintainer readiness levels by teaching and mentoring AMC maintainers during unscheduled and phase maintenance, emphasizing the necessity of learning and using proper general maintenance practices as described in applicable references. The PCO is a complex role requiring not only advanced technical skills, but also self-confidence, strong leadership ability, and diplomatic skills. Every AMO should strive to become a PCO; all AMO training culminates with this critical role. Serving in this critical battalion level position provides the AMO the necessary skills to lead maintenance efforts at brigade level and higher.
As a senior CW3, AMOs should begin training to become a Maintenance Examiner (ME). The ME trains and evaluates AMOs – he or she is a maintenance leader, teaching general and specific processes and standards. MEs must provide sound advice and set high standards to enable the success of AMOs in managing their maintenance programs. A successful ME earns the trust of his/her leadership by knowing and referencing maintenance regulations to properly educate leaders and AMOs alike. The ME not only possesses an in-depth knowledge of aircraft systems and maintenance management, but also displays a maturity level well above their peers.
CW4s are the technical and tactical experts of their chosen field, acting as direct advisors to the battalion commanders. As senior maintenance warrant officers, it is imperative to provide the environment and resources discussed above to each and every junior officer. As Battalion Aviation Maintenance Officers (BAMOs) and MEs, these individuals must mentor and teach proper maintenance practices and management to leaders, peers and subordinates.
The BAMO/ME must also take on the role of a special projects officer, knowledgeable in areas such as budget, logistics and contracting. The BAMO must also work closely with the XO and S-3, balancing the flying hour program and the maintenance program. Together with the PCO, the Senior AMO should provide a singular voice to the command regarding all maintenance issues, focusing battalion maintenance programs on processes that support plug and play task force organizations.
The Task Force
Task forces are the future of Army Aviation and aviation maintenance; it is imperative to train AMOs accordingly. Currently, the only CW4 Modified Table of Organization and Equipment (MTOE) slots are assigned to the ASB. This will change in upcoming Force Design Updates; proposed changes include a CW4 position on the battalion commander’s special staff. For this reason, senior AMOs must maintain situational awareness not only on maintenance programs, but on all matters affecting our units. The proposed, upcoming change is great news for battalion commanders and their maintenance programs!
For My Fellow CW5s
Find the talent within your formations and pick the best to hold these critical leadership positions within the maintenance community. Seek out motivated CW4s to take on the aviation support operations (AVN SPO) position. As a train up position to the brigade AMO, this is a critical position that helps to bring the flight-line perspective into the logistics realm. The AVN SPO utilizes the full support capability of the ASB to assist the combat aviation brigade in accomplishing its mission. Both the AVN SPO and BDE AMO positions are flying positions, thus affording these individuals the opportunity to assess flight line maintenance standards and maintenance management talent.
Finally, constant communication with the branch maintenance officer at AMCOM allows positive solicitation of the aviation enterprise in sustaining brigade maintenance readiness. This is really a great time to be an AMO – We can and will influence the readiness of our units and the proficiency of our Soldiers!
CW5 Leonte I. Cardona is the Aviation Branch Maintenance Officer, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL. He has over 32 years of aviation maintenance experience as maintainer, phase team leader, production/quality control NCO/OIC, test pilot and test pilot examiner.