Reserve / By COL J. Ray Davis and Mr. Christopher Flemming: Winds were out of the south at 10 knots with the temperature nearing 80 degrees (F) as the cannon boomed to start the Army Birthday Run.
Det. 1/B/642nd ASB, SCARNG, Jan. 23, 2017, Camp Buehring, Kuwait with the first in-theater-completed AH-64E phase inspection. (left to right) SSG Cori Simmons, SPC Christopher Powell, SSG Todd Sturgell, SSG Brock Thomas, SPC Jesse Gable, SPC Ean Laubach, SGT Thomas Brown, SGT Tim McCoy, SPC Robert Waller, SPC Joseph Nalley, SGT Joshua Sligh, SSG Nathan Bloom, SGT Peter Savarese, SGT Robert Rutledge, WO1 Tim Troutman, SPC William Reavis, SPC Christian Krause, SGT Henry Easterling, SSG Michael Jackson, SGT Hubert Coker, SGT James Bishop. Not Pictured: SPC Joshua Register, SPC Nicholas Spor, CW5 James L. Ayers. / SOUTH CAROLINA NATIONAL GUARD PHOTO BY SFC NEAL AYRES
The 25 members of Detachment 1, Company B, 642nd Aviation Support Battalion (ASB) along with thousands of other III Corps and Fort Hood Soldiers, walked forward, then trotted into a run expanding the mass formation like an accordion. Ft. Hood, TX was Det.1/B/642nd ASB’s mobilization station. Ever mindful of his Soldiers, CW5 James “Larry” Ayers was confident they would do fine today. He knew it would be a little hotter and humid back home at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, in Eastover, SC. The members of this South Carolina Army National Guard (SCARNG) aircraft maintenance unit were used to high heat indexes. They were also stacked with talent that focused training of traditional Guardsmen and years of full-time National Guard AH-64D technician experience naturally brings. Det.1’s Soldiers were eager to contribute as much as possible on the upcoming deployment which would include 4-6 Heavy Attack Reconnaissance Squadron (HARS). But how could Army National Guard 64D mechanics contribute to the maintenance of 4-6 HARS AH-64E aircraft?
Det. 1/B/642nd ASB was task-organized under the 777th ASB as part of the 77th Theater Aviation Brigade (TAB) in support of Operation Spartan Shield. The unit was sourced to provide AH-64 field and sustainment support and might be one of the last ARNG units sourced as such to support Active Component (AC) attack reconnaissance battalions due to the changes required under the Aviation Restructuring Initiative (ARI). Det. 1 consisted of eleven 15Rs; seven 15Ys; four AH-64 Technical Inspectors (TI); one 151A ‘walking warrant’ acting as supply/phase team leader, and TI; one 15R/D acting as NCOIC and Non-Destructive Testing inspector; and one 152HL Maintenance Examiner (ME)/Instructor Pilot (IP). Ten were full-time National Guard aircraft maintenance technicians, and 15 were traditional Guardsmen.
Before Mobilizing to Ft. Hood
Since AH-64Es were not programmed for ARNG units, neither was New Equipment Training (NET) for maintenance personnel nor AH-64E specific tools. These two obstacles would have to be negotiated (NET & 64E tools) if Det.1 was going to be able to contribute to AH-64E maintenance in theater. If these two obstacles were overcome, then the floodgates could be opened and Det.1’s many man-years of AH-64D maintenance experience would pour out to support the 4-6th Heavy Attack Reconnaissance Squadron (HARS). With this vision, CW5 Ayers and Det.1’s NCOs got to work finding unfilled 64E NET training seats at various locations around the country. They negotiated to have Det.1 Soldiers attend the course at no detriment or expense to the AC. With multi-compo coordination and cooperation, by the time Det.1 deployed, all of its personnel were AH-64E trained and certified, including CW5 Ayers who is a Department of the Army Civilian AH-64E ME/IP at Ft. Rucker, and South Carolina Guardsman.
Det. 1/B/642nd ASB was instrumental in acquiring some of the AH-64E special tools required to perform phase maintenance inspections in theater. Those tools and ones accumulated in the future will become Theater Provided Equipment to create a capability for the Kuwait area. With tools received through the supply system and some borrowed from 4-6 HARS, Det.1 now had the trained personnel and tools to conduct 4-6 HARS AH-64E aircraft phase maintenance. On January 23rd, despite all of the hurdles, Det.1/B/642nd finished its first AH-64E phase in theater with its unique group of AH-64E qualified soldiers. They offloaded the AH-64E from a strategic lift aircraft, flew it to the phase location, performed the pre-phase test flight, completed the inspection in 24 days, performed the post phase test flight, completed a 100% inspection by 4-6 HARS Quality Control, and returned the aircraft to the unit on day 28. Additionally, the aircraft was the first AH-64 to self-deploy from Kuwait to its mission location since 2011 utilizing a CH-47-based remote refuel operation, a.k.a. “Fat Cow.” This was done without incident and the aircraft arrived Fully Mission Capable ready to support the mission.
There was a lot of hard work at all levels to make this happen. Det.1 completed its second AH-64E phase inspection in early March in similar fashion.
COL J. Ray Davis is the chief of the Army National Guard Aviation and Safety Division and Mr. Christopher Fleming is an aviation strategic planner; both located in Arlington, VA.