After a bit of R&R following his last interview in Hawaii, MSG Half-Mast made his way to Michigan to sit down with CW4 Jeffrey S. Thompson of the Michigan Army National Guard. Wearing his PS-logoed face mask and sitting six feet away, he asked Chief Thompson about his maintenance operation and took a tour of the facility.
CW4 Thompson has served in uniform for 32 years, both as an enlisted Soldier and commissioned officer and on active duty and in the Army National Guard. He entered active duty in 1988 and made the transition to the National Guard in 1997. While on active duty, he was an automated logistics NCO and served in Southwest Asia, Somalia and Bosnia. He became a warrant officer in 2004. Among his various duties, he served as the State MAIT Chief and senior maintenance technician/senior warrant advisor for a military police brigade. Currently, he’s the Combined Support Maintenance Shop (CSMS) Foreman, Joint Force HQ, Michigan Army National Guard.
MSG Half-Mast: Based on your experience, how challenging is it for National Guard units to stay combat ready? How do you accurately measure readiness in your unit or the units you support?
CW4 Thompson: I can definitely say that it is extremely challenging for National Guard units to stay combat ready for multiple reasons. There are many reasons;, the primary one is time. Over the past two decades, I’ve seen a continuous increase in mission requirements placed on National Guard units, which provides a significant challenge for leaders to fulfill without having the ability to increase the amount of time required to complete all tasks within a maintenance program.
MSG Half-Mast: How often do you get out into the motor pool and work bays and what impact does this visibility have?
Accurately measuring readiness for my unit or a unit I support, specifically for equipment, can be challenging, as well. We’ve come far in being able to track and monitor readiness, to the point where it is near “real time” and visibility and access to this information is more readily accessible than I ever imagined it would be. AESIP has great tools that measure readiness, identifies trends and even provides predictive readiness forecasts. However, it’s still dependent on the information manually input into a logistics information system (LIS), such as GCSS-Army. This is the reason why it’s highly important to ensure M1 notifications are created, and with the correct technical status that identifies whether or not a piece of equipment is FMC versus NMC. Even when done correctly, accurately and in a timely manner, it can still be misleading because readiness ratings are only based on the status of reportable items. In order to capture and measure a better sense of readiness within a unit, a holist approach must be taken, and that can be accomplished through the Command Maintenance Discipline Program and regular unit evaluations. For example, a unit could be reporting a 100% FMC rating for all vehicles. This can be definitively measured, tracked and monitored. However, I pose the question that if the same unit only has enough trained, qualified and licensed operators for half of their assigned vehicles, missing BII and COEI, or are have communication systems that are not installed, is the unit truly ready? The above aspects are not measured, tracked and monitored in the same manner, but are equally as important overall.
CW4 Thompson: Not nearly enough as I should or want to! I believe that having a presence in the motor pool and work bays, both as a technical expert and a leader, is an essential part of any maintenance program. It shows that leaders care and are being observant of Soldiers’ efforts in the maintenance of their equipment.
MSG Half-Mast: For seventy years, PS Magazine has provided preventive maintenance tips to mechanics stationed all over the world, in all climates. What are some best practices maintenance techs need to be aware of, especially in states that have the full range of seasons and temperatures?
CW4 Thompson: First, ensure they have all of the proper diagnostic tools and testing devices required to check the state of various equipment components, such as batteries, cooling systems and air conditioning systems. Second is to ensure commands allow time in training schedules to perform seasonal checks on equipment beyond/outside the scheduled maintenance plan. Third, techs need to have input into the Maintenance SOP that includes provisions for climate-related tasks, such as a winterization program. For example, here in Michigan, it is essential for units to check coolant in the early fall season to identify any systems that have ratings below a level that would prevent freezing and cracking blocks. Fourth, techs need to ensure they have appropriate levels of supplies on hand to remedy deficiencies before they develop into problems that could lead to components being damaged or made inoperable. Lastly, beyond maintenance technicians specifically, equipment operators need to exercise their assigned equipment throughout the year. Nothing is worse for equipment than to let it sit idle for months at a time.
MSG Half-Mast: How often does your shop have group meetings to discuss maintenance, supply, personnel and safety issues? Is there a common theme that emerges from these meetings?
CW4 Thompson: Our shop has group meetings on a regular basis. During normal operations, we have maintenance manager meetings on a weekly basis. This normally encompasses maintenance, supply and personnel issues. We also have a monthly safety council—with a chair and co-chair—comprised of supervisors and one technician from each section. The common theme that emerges from every meeting is that everyone understands the current mission, identifies shortfalls and what needs to be done to overcome those shortfalls, and focuses on the tasks that need to be accomplished and their priority.
MSG Half-Mast: Everyone knows—or should know—it’s important to keep tools organized and accounted for in the tool room. What other good habits need reinforcing?
CW4 Thompson: One good habit is that tools need to be inspected for serviceability upon issue and return, every time, not just during the normal inventory schedule! The other habit that goes along with this is that tools found to be unserviceable need to be identified, tagged and separated from the serviceable tools to prevent them from being issued. When I was working on the floor as a mechanic, there was nothing much more disheartening than to go to the tool room and sign something out, only to find out it was broken, then find out it had been that way for quite some time. As a supervisor at an FMS, it was extremely frustrating to discover at the end of an inventory a “pile” of tools that were deemed unserviceable, but were not identified and tagged during the point of return. This is something that time does not make any better, and degrades the capability of making repairs.
MSG Half-Mast: What percentage of your operators would you say know the first PMCS check on their vehicle system without having to look it up? What are the best ways for leaders to improve on this metric?
CW4 Thompson: I’d estimate that less than 10% of operators know the first PMCS check on their vehicle without looking at the technical manual. One of the best ways, I believe, , leaders can improve on this is to emphasize the importance of PMCS and provide training in order for Soldiers to conduct this critical task proficiently. Currently, the requirement to conduct annual and biennial checks but, at best, it’s only implied that PMCS sustainability training is encompassed with these checks. One of the areas evaluated under CMDP [command maintenance discipline program] addresses PMCS training being conducted by units. In my review of the many assessments conducted in the Michigan Army National Guard, this is a neglected area for most units. Not sure why this is the case, but perhaps there may be a presumption that only vehicle operators require PMCS training. All equipment has some sort of PMCS table in the related technical manual: weapons, NVGs, communication devices, NBC masks, mess equipment, etc. I can’t image any Soldier would be exempt from being issued and operating/employing a single piece of equipment that doesn’t have PMCS requirements. If I had to provide a “best” way to improve this, it would be to issue equipment to Soldiers as much as possible in order for them to have opportunities to become highly proficient at taking care of it.
MSG-Half: Are hard copy and IETMs readily available for every vehicle and piece of equipment in your unit? If not, what’s the impact and remedy?
CW4 Thompson: Hard copy TMs are not always readily available for every vehicle and piece of equipment, not only in my unit, but for most units I’ve interacted with. And the manuals they do have are often outdated or do not have changes posted. I do have to say, most units make every attempt to print the PMCS tables and place them in a binder for operators to utilize. However, although having the PMCS tables is a great start, it’s still providing Soldiers an incomplete resource. Another challenge with hard-copy TMs is that they are prone to damage rather easily. Units are required to establish and maintain a publications account. For the most part, I see this being done; most units are doing well utilizing a Unit Tailored Publications listing to identify all of the required publications needed to support their equipment. However, hard copy manuals are not always available, or the publications are not listed as available through the Army Publishing Directorate or APD. AESIP does have the ETM/IETM application and it’s a great resource, with thousands of manuals, but the challenge is downloading and printing the manuals.
MSG-Half: What advice would you give junior Soldiers regarding their role in optimizing personal, unit and fleet readiness?
ETMs and IETMs are a wonderful resource and a force multiplier when it comes to maintenance. Most units I have interacted with have an adequate number of CDs to support their equipment. However, this poses a challenge for units that do not have the resources or capabilities required to utilize this media type. Units authorized maintenance support devices—also known as MSDs—have the ability to utilize electronic media well, but not every unit carries the authorization for MSDs. Most units rely on “stand alone” or “off network” laptops, which is great until they run into software or hardware issues that require repairs that aren’t easily supported.
Beyond having a publications account, keeping the subscriptions updated and having enough hard-copy manuals and ETMs/IETMs on hand, I see where most units struggle with organizing and maintaining an actual library. Far too many times I’ve gone to units and found stacks of TMs and CDs on shelves in no order and in an uncontrolled area for all to access. There have been many instances where TMs are left in vehicles, making them prone to damage and loss. For a reference library to have benefit and worth, it needs to be organized, safeguarded and publications accounted for by personnel appointed by the unit commander. Not having current and serviceable publications on hand for every piece of equipment can be detrimental to not only unit readiness, but also to the safety of Soldiers who operate that equipment.
There are possible several remedies to overcome shortages of TMs or providing Soldiers the resources they need to conduct a proper PMCS; however they can be difficult to sustain. One remedy was developed by a warrant officer stationed at Ft. Campbell. Leveraging technology, he uploaded PMCS tables as Google documents, then assigned each a QR scan code. Then he affixed the scan codes to the vehicles to which the PMCS tables are associated. Soldiers can then use their smart phones to scan the code, and it takes them directly to the PMCS chart they need. This is a great tool and resource; I have even used it myself. However, therein lies its shortfall: it needs to be continually sustained and updated. Necessity is the mother of invention but units need to be careful that their solutions have command approval, don’t violate Army policy and can be sustained. It would be a useful and highly beneficial resource if the Army would develop a PMCS application that could be accessed with a personal data device, but is also maintained and updated as changes occur.
CW4 Thompson: Junior Soldiers are the frontline of defense when it comes to unit readiness. The advice I would give them is to take ownership and have a high level of responsibility when it comes to their assigned equipment. Maintaining a high level of readiness needs everyone’s involvement, not just those with an MOS that qualifies them to repair equipment. Taking responsibility for a piece of equipment, especially a vehicle, can offer junior Soldiers opportunities to broaden and excel. For example, Soldiers can achieve awards and recognition such as a Driver’s Badge, which can set them apart from their peers when it comes to promotions. This being said, Soldiers shouldn’t look at this as a burden, but rather a duty that will instill pride in themselves, their unit and the Army as a whole.
I also have some “upward” advice for commanders and leaders: give your maintenance chiefs maximum latitude to execute the unit’s maintenance mission. By and large, they know what needs to be done and how. Establish your intent, then let them use disciplined initiative and know-how to get things done.