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Tennessee National Guard 'maintains' northern Iraq aviation mission

Jan 25, 2010

By Staff Sgt. Mike Alberts 25th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq -- They don't attract much public attention, and they're far less visible than the pilots and aircraft they support. But their mission is no less important. In fact, without them, those pilots wouldn't be able to fly their helicopters.

They are the maintenance Soldiers of the Tennessee Army National Guard's Troop F, "Titans," 1st Squadron, 230th Air Cavalry Squadron, Task Force Wings. They handle all aviation intermediate maintenance for the 1/230th ACS, operating in northern Iraq from Forward Operating Bases Sykes, Warrior and Diamondback.

According to their squadron executive officer, the importance of their AVIM cannot be overstated.

"Without [Titan], we would be at the mercy of the next higher level of repair, which would require us to go beyond the squadron and beyond the [FOBs where we operate]," explained Maj. Layne Beason, executive officer, 1/230th ACS. "To do that would add -- at a minimum -- days if not weeks, in some instances, to repairing an aircraft, depending on the nature of the repair. That's time we can't fly our mission; that jeopardizes the work of the ground forces we support."

The 1/230th ACS deployed with more 600 Soldiers from units in Smyrna, Alcoa and Jackson, Tenn., back in July. The squadron is task organized with a Headquarters and Headquarters Troop. Troops A, B and C are equipped with the unit's OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters whose primary missions are reconnaissance and security operations. Troop D is equipped with Blackhawk helicopters used to transport troops and supplies. Troop E handles the battalion's first level, aviation maintenance work. Finally, Troop G provides ground transportation, downed aircraft recovery capability and fuel and ammunition supply in addition to other forward support functions.

"Frankly, having our own intermediate maintenance is one of the unique nuances of our air cavalry squadron," said Maj. Beason. "Without it, we would not be flying the operational tempo that we do. We can do it because of [Titan]."

Captain Amanda Wolfe is a UH-60 Blackhawk pilot, production control officer and Troop F's acting executive officer. In addition to her administrative responsibilities, Capt. Wolfe manages the squadron's AVIM. She explained that Troop F's true value is handling levels of maintenance above the day-to-day, line-level maintenance.

"AVIM principally focuses on helicopter part and component repair and not just servicing," said Capt. Wolfe. "To accomplish that mission, the troop contains all necessary specialty maintenance sections, to include an avionics shop which handles radio repair, an armament shop that focuses on weapon systems and survivability equipment, a sheet metal shop that works aircraft structural repair, a prop and rotor shop, a hydraulics shop, and an engine shop."

Of course, all these tasks must be done correctly and replacement parts must be properly ordered, received and promptly delivered. It's the production control, quality control, technical supply and logistical supply Soldiers who handle those details. They are some of the best at their jobs.

"All our young Soldiers have done an exceptional job and developed by leaps and bounds since we arrived," explained Capt. Wolfe. "And that really shows how exceptional our senior noncommissioned officers and other senior leaders are. We have not had to drop a mission yet because of maintenance problems."

Staff Sgt. Michael Brown is one of their many NCOs. He's a 20-year TANG veteran, native of Maryville, Tenn., a maintenance squad leader and OH-58D Kiowa Warrior maintenance supervisor.

For Staff Sgt. Brown, anything less than perfection when it comes to maintenance is not an option.

"As a team, we worry about anything that can get inside an aircraft and cause it to go down," explained Staff Sgt. Brown. "I am very aware, and I ensure that everyone that maintains these helicopters is aware, that [the aircraft] we work on transport two lives when they fly. We take that personally. It is our responsibility to ensure that they are mechanically sound and don't have any problems."

"Our aircraft must do their mission everyday and we must keep them flying," he continued. "So far, we're doing a very good job which I attribute to all our younger Soldiers who [all take our] mission very seriously."

Private First Class Shanika Buffington is a Troop F production control clerk on her first deployment. The Oxford, Miss. native is part of the team that ensures that all necessary parts and components are ordered and that any damaged parts are directed to the correct specialty repair shops. She's also one of those young 1/230th ACS Soldiers about whom Staff Sgt. Brown spoke.

"I know my job's important. Once an aircraft is grounded, it's in our hands," said Pfc. Buffington. "We need to take that part, get it where it needs to go, do it quickly, and get it resolved. We're on the front line at that point [and] if we don't get the job done, our mission fails."

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