Mission depends on maintenance for Kentucky Guard overseas

Story by Sgt. Bryan Ploughe, 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery Unit Public Affairs Historian Representative

623 Maintenance 1

Master Sgt. Aaron Young (left) and Sgt. 1st Class Robert Long (center) work on decompressing an air conditioning unit, while Sgt. Joseph Johnson watches the scale to determine the amount of freon that has been captured during the process. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Warrant Officer Melissa Propes)

SOUTHWEST ASIA — Maintenance of mission essential equipment is challenging and educational at an installation in southwest Asia that is currently supporting several hundred individuals and is looking to expand to more than double its current population.

Currently the Kentucky National Guard’s 1st Battalion 623rd Field Artillery is responsible for and maintains 68 different pieces of equipment. In addition to their own gear they are supporting incoming and transient units’ maintenance needs as well. With that scenario the Soldiers said it presents several challenges as well as educational opportunities.

“Our mission here in Southwest Asia is a critical one,” said Master Sgt. Aaron Young. “Our mechanics and the support team are excited about having this opportunity to demonstrate their current abilities as well as to expand their knowledge on equipment that they are familiar with, as well as not so familiar with.”

The eight regular members of the maintenance team keep the regular checks and services caught up, let alone the “surprises” that continually arise.  Although they have scheduled working hours, some of this equipment runs 24 hours a day to help support the installation in operations. Due to that, it is not out of the ordinary for any member of the team to get a wake-up knock at their door, informing them that they are needed for support at any given location on the installation.

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Members of the Kentucky National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery maintenance team erect a new maintenance bay tent in their current area of operation, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Warrant Officer Melissa Propes)

Spc. Shawn Masden has quickly become proficient in troubleshooting and repairing the facilities power generation equipment. Much of the generator powered equipment is essential to operations or life support and cannot be without generator power for long. Through Masden’s experiences here, he has learned to troubleshoot with accuracy and make repairs quickly. He has quickly learned the issues that he can fix on the spot or if it is an issue that requires more in depth attention, and if it requires replacement with one of the float generators that he also maintains to keep essential equipment operating. Although the generators are meticulously maintained, they are a high demand item and they continually require regular attention.

“Although this is his first deployment, he has the mind set and the abilities of a seasoned veteran in his areas of expertise,” said Warrant Officer Melissa Propes, the battalion automotive maintenance technician.

Staff Sgt. Nicholas Boller manages the Logistics Information Systems (LIS), an essential element in maintaining operations. All parts requisitions, readiness reporting and maintenance management tracking is conducted through the systems that Boller operates. Although he does not hold a logistical specialist MOS (military occupational specialty), he has become proficient in daily operations, maintenance and troubleshooting of computer and satellite equipment, and tracking the extensive process of getting parts to their remote location in southwest Asia.

Boller works closely with maintenance liaisons to communicate and track parts requests. In addition to being responsible for LIS operations, Boller’s technical expertise is a major asset to troubleshooting and repairing automotive equipment.

Most of the battalion’s equipment being maintained is available back in the states for familiarization and hands on training. But there is one piece that due to its cost and high demand in operational areas is not readily available stateside for training. The MRAP, or Mine resistant ambush protected vehicle, is a highly specialized piece of technically advanced equipment that the maintenance team is quickly becoming acquainted with.

“To have to opportunity to become familiar with the vehicle and get some real world hands wrench time on this vehicle is a privilege,” said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Long.

This particular vehicle has a level of protection for Soldiers that is unmatched in the type of situations that it is meant to endure. With the armor strategically placed on this vehicle, regular maintenance is more of an issue, due to the removal of plates and so on, just to be able to access the areas that require attention.

“Specialist Nichols is our go to guy, when it comes to the “knowhow” and knowledge of armor removal,” said Young. “He performs this task in a rapid, complete and safe manner. When Nichols is assigned to perform these duties, I have no worry. I can go on about my business knowing he’s in charge of that piece of equipment.”

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Spc. Grover Nichols takes a moment to smile for the camera, while he and Spc. Timothy Firkins perform a regular service on a mission essential vehicle. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Warrant Officer Melissa Propes)

“Specialist Grover Nichols has demonstrated the skill and aptitude of a Soldier that has knowledge and ability well beyond what his rank reflects,” said Propes. “The eagerness that he tackles each job with, is one of his many fine traits as a Soldier.”

“Determination is of the utmost on a daily basis,” she said. “Equipment reliability and safety is our main concern. Without these two elements in place, the Soldiers cannot perform their daily missions.”

According to the leadership of the 623rd the unit is fortunate to have some of Kentucky’s best and brightest mechanics and operators on this mission.

“As professionals, our maintenance section understands that we must have well-maintained equipment to safely and successfully perform and accomplish the mission and they work daily to ensure that the standard of that, never waivers,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Fanter, battalion commander.

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