MSG Half-Mast recently traveled to Fort Lee, Virginia to speak with BG Michelle M.T. Letcher, 42nd Chief of Ordnance and the US Army Ordnance School Commandant to discuss her views on readiness.
BG Letcher was commissioned through ROTC from Illinois State University (Normal, Illinois) into the Air Defense Artillery in 1995. She was branch detailed and became an Ordnance officer in 1997. BG Letcher’s command assignments include Commanding General, Joint Munitions Command, Rock Island, IL; Commander, 16th Sustainment Brigade, Baumholder, GE; and Commander, 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, Grafenwoehr, GE, which included deploying the unit to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom 12-13. Key staff positions include Executive Officer to the Commanding General, Army Materiel Command, Redstone Arsenal, AL; and Deputy Support Operations Officer, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), Fort Hood, TX. BG Letcher assumed her current command at Fort Lee, VA, on June 16, 2020.
|BG Michelle M.T. Letcher, 42nd Chief of Ordnance, and Staff Sgt. Philip Giles, Ordnance instructor, discuss the capabilities of the Next Generation Automatic Test System (NGATS) as they examine the NGATS test results on the M2 Bradley’s Auxiliary Control Unit shown in the background. Automated Test Systems Operators/Maintainers (94Y) receive NGATS training at the US Army Ordnance School, Fort Lee, Virginia. (Photo by CPT Brandon Davidson)
Brigadier General Letcher, thank you for taking the time to speak with PS Magazine today. As Chief of Ordnance, you have a strategic view of readiness trends, not only in the Ordnance Corps but across the Army. What are some of the most notable trends affecting readiness you’re seeing?
BG Letcher: Like all other Army branches, we are positioning our Corps to successfully fight and win. Our advantage is our effectiveness in understanding the environment, modernizing our efforts, and training and resourcing to that requirement.
It also relies on leaders ensuring that today’s Soldiers understand current regulations, proper procedures and readiness. One defining example regards materiel readiness: maintenance support devices (MSDs) are the repository of weapon system data storage, used for testing and diagnosing failed line replaceable units (LRUs) on a multitude of equipment, and are used to read electronic technical manuals (ETMs).
It is important for maintainers to know how to use the MSD and how to access and update its information. Updating the ETMs is especially critical because without the appropriate ETMs, maintenance cannot be performed to standard, and readiness will directly suffer. Just like we update our smartphones, we must update our professional devices. On the same note, leaders and maintainers also need to understand which special tools and equipment are necessary for their particular unit and how to use them.
To an outsider, it would seem that Ordnance is about just bullets and bombs; but it’s much more than that. What are the other components of Ordnance and how do you ensure readiness permeates the entire Corps?
BG: Letcher: Ordnance is responsible for four competencies required by our Army and our Joint Force: maintenance and ammunition, of course, but also explosive ordnance disposal and explosives safety. We ensure Corps readiness in these competencies by listening to the field, but also by understanding the evolving environment. Internal to the force, we connect through several media channels and conduct quarterly Ordnance Connect (OD Connect) virtual conferences. OD Connect is an interactive forum aimed primarily at informing the sustainment community on various initiatives and maintenance-related matters within the Ordnance Corps and School. The forum focuses on current issues challenging the force, new or emerging capabilities (equipment and fielding), and Ordnance initiatives related to or in support of maintenance, ammunition, explosive ordnance disposal and explosives safety. We reach out ahead of time through all our communication channels and encourage units and leaders to bring us their issues of concern or their best practices and lessons learned, and then we share that through OD Connect along with any additional resources we can provide.
We take advantage of every opportunity to communicate with the field. For example, most divisional deputy commanding general – support (DCG-S) officers will cycle through our Center of Excellence prior to assuming their role, as will most senior sustainment leaders. We take that opportunity to brief each one, and their respective sustainment teams, on any readiness issues that may be endemic in their units and discuss what expertise or tools we can provide. Also, we take extensive advantage of the fact that we are resident here at Fort Lee with the logistics officer, warrant officer and noncommissioned officer professional training schools and ensure that we advise on their curriculum and discuss current readiness issues with them.
PMCS is a foundational component of individual, unit and fleet readiness. How does the Ordnance Corps and School go about communicating its importance? What other skills does Ordnance teach and reinforce that advance Army readiness?
BG Letcher: One of the issues we run into is the fallacy that preventive maintenance checks and services (PMCS) is seen as the responsibility of the unit’s maintainers rather than that of the equipment operator. Additionally, it is leaders’ responsibility to ensure their formation is disciplined in their approach to executing to standard. Our training here at the school emphasizes to our NCOs, warrant officers, and officers that one of their critical responsibilities is to ensure their unit, and their customer units, are aware of the operator and unit responsibilities in AR 750-1, DA PAM 750-1 and DA PAM 750-3, all of which explain Army materiel maintenance policies. We concentrate on how these ordnance leaders can train or advise operators on using the equipment’s technical manual (TM) that’s a part of every vehicle and equipment’s basic issue item (BII). The TM outlines operator and maintainer checklists and responsibilities as set forth in the Army maintenance standard outlined in AR 750-1.
Specifically, in the Ordnance NCO training programs, we emphasize the importance of operator and unit PMCS as the foundation of Army maintenance. We expand on the critical importance of accurate maintenance status reporting and the Command Maintenance Discipline Program (CMDP). We augment that training with hands-on instruction on the various sustainment information systems to teach how to monitor, analyze and improve readiness rates through improved maintenance management principles.
As technology becomes more sophisticated, how does it impact the training provided by the Ordnance School?
BG Letcher: As equipment becomes more technical and sophisticated, so too has our institutional training techniques. We have become more innovative in adapting various types of new technology available to us in order to train Ordnance Corps Soldiers to maintain equipment readiness. Examples of our technology integration into training are the uses of 3D modeling, computer-aided instructional programs, and interactive multi-media instruction (IMI). These aid in teaching Soldiers how to diagnose and repair systems and have the added benefit of allowing us to train Soldiers on systems before they’re fielded. Virtual technology allows us to train Soldiers on diagnostics and repairs on systems, sometimes even before the equipment’s training aids are available.
Additionally, we conduct a job analysis for each specialty or MOS every three years. The goal is to identify any new tasks we should train or current tasks that may need changing. We conduct this holistic review in conjunction with field units to identify changes in doctrine, organization, training, materiel (equipment), leadership and education, and any policies that affect sustainment units, Soldier-required skills or MOS responsibilities. The job analysis is then used to build a total task inventory of all tasks a Soldier is expected to perform. This identifies critical tasks and determines whether they should be taught at the Ordnance School or home-station. We look at opportunities to leverage technology to provide the skills training at the point of need. We have discovered that virtual training gives us the possibility for broader reach.
What guidance would you give young Soldiers and junior officers when it comes to ensuring the highest levels of readiness each and every day?
BG Letcher: It is crucial to readiness to try to learn something new every day that will make you a better sustainment Soldier (and every Soldier is ultimately a sustainment Soldier because each is responsible for maintaining Army assets). Take advantage of every opportunity to learn outside of the classroom. PS Magazine is a great tool to assist Soldiers in this effort, in conjunction with training manuals, regulations, and pamphlets. And leaders should have the websites to these resources bookmarked into their computers and personal electronic devices.
Through digital and social media, staying abreast of emerging sustainment capabilities is easier than ever. CASCOM and the Ordnance School have been working to use technology to make information easily accessible in order to keep leaders up to date. An example is the CASCOM Forward video series, where senior sustainment leaders and subject matter experts provide situational awareness to sustainers about current working initiatives. The videos are available at:
Specifically for our Ordnance core competencies, we have leveraged our training technology to create several apps and interactive multimedia instruction tools that can be used by individual Soldiers and units needing training support packages for home station and sergeant’s time training. These apps and tools can be found at:
They cover everything from specific pieces of equipment, recovery operations, ammunition operations and much, much more.
In the end, readiness is directly correlated to the effort that Soldiers and leaders put into maintaining proficiency through knowledge, training and practical application. To maintain individual and unit proficiency, and thus unit readiness, leaders must commit to resourcing every opportunity possible for their sustainment Soldiers to learn and practice their trades.