FORT MCCOY, Wis. –
A good approach to retain a U.S. Army Reserve Soldier in the infantry military occupational specialty is ensuring during a battle assembly or annual training that he fires his assigned weapon at a range and engages “opposing forces” as much as possible using blanks in his weapon. In the case of a Soldier who has a combat engineer MOS, his leadership would see to it that he is able to blow stuff up or breach obstacles in numerous methods.
Operation Platinum Wrench, held at the 88th Readiness Division-operated Draw Yard here in the spring and summer, is the tool to retain Soldiers who are in the mechanics occupational specialties. OPW which trained 239 service members this fiscal year provides mechanics in the division’s footprint which spans 19 states the chance to be trained by senior civilian contractors on their skills. These Soldiers could repair anything from vehicles which broke down en route to Fort McCoy to vehicles that break down in the field during the unit’s AT.
Comments from Soldiers participating in OPW like “fantastic,” “a great learning experience,” “I am actually doing my job which makes me excited,” and “I would highly recommend it” are as common as a mechanic’s uniform covered with grease by the end of the day.
Spc. Joshua Knier assigned to the 996th Engineer Company, 416th Theater Engineer Command, based in Milwaukee for the last six years said it best, “I personally wish I had this course offered to me a 1,000 more ATs ago. It would have been a lot better, and I would have been a lot better off than I am now.”
Knier, who works on equipment at a large farm implement dealer and is among the company’s construction equipment repairmen, also had the opportunity during OPW to pass on his knowledge to more inexperienced mechanics like Spc. Calvin Dixon, a wheeled vehicle mechanic.
Dixon is not a mechanic as a civilian. “I work in assembly so actually doing my MOS while I am on Army time is fantastic,” said Dixon who has only been in the Reserve for two and a half years. “I would definitely recommend the program.”
Sgt. Zachary Anderson, a platoon sergeant and construction equipment repairman, noted he has not “turned wrenches” in his nine years as an Army Reserve Soldier. “This is a great opportunity to get out and actually turn some wrenches. I would highly recommend this program to anyone who is coming out and any maintenance teams. I have never done my job.”
Despite “not doing his job his first nine years, Anderson, who is a deputy sheriff in the Milwaukee area, still extended his enlistment. It is a good bet after OPW he is glad he made the decision to keep serving his country.
He said his biggest takeaway is that maintenance Soldiers do not always have to be out in the field. “We can be in here and actually do our jobs for once,” he said as he pointed to the vehicles in the maintenance bays.
The dozen Soldiers from the company worked on three Humvees, four Light Medium Tactical Vehicles and one dump truck. Annual services from troubleshooting and repairs accounted for the tasks.
Casey Harp, logistics management specialist at the Draw Yard, said the operation also gives an opportunity for the Soldiers to be responsible for the running of a maintenance facility which would be like a civilian auto repair shop for example. “Some of the work orders required the Soldiers to go through the entire process of trouble shooting, looking up parts and ordering parts,” said Harp.
Harp said he cannot pin down a number of Soldiers have told him how great OPW was. He cited an example of how most maintenance sections in a unit are usually tasked with guard duty at one of the forward operating bases or logistical support areas on the installation during annual training.
“They want to do their MOS and they want to get dirty and fix things,” said Harp.
Knier said this program now gives him “that extra that moves me forward in life, that drive” when asked if OPW will assist him in staying in the Reserve.
Dixon admitted that his prior experience as a Reserve Soldier has consisted of “a lot of downtime. But I am getting excited if we get more stuff like this,” said Dixon with a wide smile.
When asked if knowing that he will be able to train on his mechanical skills in programs like OPW in the future will assist him in staying in the Reserve, he replied, “Oh yeah.”
“Really, the program is a win, win for the Army and it needs to be utilized as much as possible to keep the Army’s fleet and maintainers combat ready,” said Harp. “The Army needs well trained and knowledgeable mechanics with experience actually maintaining equipment. Then hopefully they identify problems before it is catastrophic to their unit’s mission and equipment.”