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NEWS | April 25, 2017

Maintenance keeps Operation Cold Steel moving, communicating

By Staff Sgt. Debralee Best 84th Training Command

In most gunnery operations, vehicles are not a primary requirement, but for Operation Cold Steel, a mounted gunnery operation, vehicles are an essential component.

The Operation Cold Steel mechanics have performed and are currently performing a variety of tasks which helped the operation start moving and continue to run smoothly.

Beginning Feb. 1, 2017, the shop’s first mission was to install mounted gunnery platforms on 34 trucks, including Humvees, Light Medium Tactical Vehicles and M113 Armored Personnel Carriers, as well as two M1157 Ten Ton Dump Trucks before the exercise began on March 8. They also installed radio mounts.

“We spent a total of almost 6 hours per truck doing complete radio installs and at the same time spending an hour on these trucks installing the M66 ring mounts to give Operation Cold Steel that third platform they needed for the exercise. If not, they would have done strictly just (up-armored Humvees),” said Sgt. 1st Class Duran Hargest, maintenance noncommissioned officer-in-charge, Operation Cold Steel. “With us coming ahead of time and getting those trucks identified we were able to help extend that vehicle platform out to three platforms versus one.”

Before they could begin installing the radios and platforms, they had to have a place to work out of and that was something the mechanics worked on themselves as well.

“When we got here in January it was pretty much we had to literally build and put the shop together,” said Hargest. “This shop wasn’t even here when we got here. We literally moved in and took it over and had to actually put it together so we could actually run a shop.”

Hargest signed for tool sets and borrowed needed vehicle lubricants and oils.

Now that the shop is set up and the exercise is in full swing, the mechanics stay busy. Every day a chalk of 11 to 13 gunnery crews comes in to receive their vehicle. The operator performs Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services as the mechanics provide guidance and assistance as needed. After the vehicles are found to be in fully mission capable status, the vehicles are dispatched to the operators for their gunnery tables. After completing qualification, those 11 to 13 gunnery crews return to the shop, again perform PMCS and turning in the vehicle. But, it doesn’t end there. The mechanics go over the vehicles again, just to be sure nothing was missed.

“(We) go from the front of the truck all the way to the back of the truck, making sure the lights are working, fluids are toped off, radios are still good, tires, drive shaft, anything minor or whatever we need to do, we’ll take care of it right there on the spot,” said Hargest. “As those get done, we put them back out on the line, do a reset, go back over to see what we missed, what we didn’t do, what we didn’t get done, then get ready for the next chalk tomorrow. It’s just pretty much like a revolving door, everyday here for the 37 chalks coming in.”

In addition to keep the vehicles fully mission capable, the mechanics have also provided assistance in other areas as well as expended their mechanical knowledge.

“Also, while we were here, we were able to do eight services that took 40 man-hours to do, 40 man-hours per truck. We helped the draw yard shorten their backlog of equipment to get done,” said Hargest. “So, we actually helped another unit here out on Fort McCoy get their backlog down by taking on those extra vehicles for servicing. We also replaced one transmission while we were here and at the same time, while replacing it, our maintenance warrant officer, Mr. (Joshura) Dobbs was also giving a class on the functionality of the transmission by making a cutout of it so you can see the components and how they work internally. Some of the Soldiers had never had a chance to see that.”

Performing these services has allowed the mechanics to grow.

“Before I didn’t dare to do it because I wasn’t sure, but now I know what to look for, where to look at and I know I can just go and check,” said Spc. Jimmy Gonzalez, mechanic, Operation Cold Steel.

“For every last one of us in here, it was a learning experience for us. I’m not going to lie because you’re never going to learn from your mistakes if you do, but some of the things were a great learning experience, some things could have been avoided,” said Staff Sgt. Hosea McWilliams, construction equipment repair, Operation Cold Steel. “Overall it was a learning experience. It wasn’t all good, but it wasn’t all bad either. You expect to have hiccups any time you have training.”

Building the maintenance team for Operation Cold Steel also brought about a confidence in the Soldiers in their skills as mechanics as well as their important role in readiness.

“This is the first time we’ve all gotten together as a team and we literally have to look at everybody’s strong points, weak points, make adjustments as we go, who are great leaders, who are soon-to-be great leaders, who are experienced mechanics, who are not so experienced mechanics and now we’re to the point I have confidence, when we go out on the range or here in the shop that I can give a task to any maintenance personnel regardless of what rank and know that they get the job done without any hesitation or wondering how does this work or how do we fix this,” said Hargest.

“They’ve actually built their confidence up to do this and I hope they take that experience and when they go back to home station and rattle the chains there at their command or their company and say we need to get out here and do this. I understand that readiness is personnel and training but we forget about the most important part which is moving. We can’t get to the battlefield. At least we’re able to move and our maintenance guys need to stay engaged and doing what they do.”

Operation Cold Steel has also increased the visibility on the importance of vehicle maintenance.

“It opened a lot of eyes on vehicle readiness and where we stand as we get ready for the future as far as warfighting,” said Hargest. “No more going to the range with M16 (assault rifles), now we have vehicles, we’re the sustainment guys and this is what we’ll be doing from here on out.”