AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq – The 36th Combat Aviation Brigade (36th CAB), “Task Force Mustang,” 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, assigned maintenance Soldiers from different units to develop cohesive teams for the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve mission, which currently spans across Iraq and Syria. These teams deliver an unparalleled group of expertise in aircraft maintenance, trusted by Army pilots for various flight missions conducted around the clock, 24/7.
One such team of aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs) is led by Sgt. 1st Class Joe Palacio, non-commissioned in-charge from Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment, General Support Aviation Battalion (2-149th GSAB), 36th CAB, responsible for all Army aircraft maintenance that occurs at Al Asad Air Base (AAAB).
“We all came together from different stations, and that is what made us better—the cohesion of everyone coming together,” remarked Palacio. “Everyone understood the situation and what was needed to be done to take on this mission.”
The maintenance team comprises Soldiers from across Task Force (TF) Mustang’s battalions: the 2-149th GSAB, known as “TF Roosevelt,” the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation Regiment, Assault Helicopter Battalion (3-142nd AHB) from the New York Army National Guard, known as “TF Rough Riders,” the 449th Aviation Support Battalion (449th ASB), known as “TF Dark Horse,” and the 1st Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, known as “TF No Mercy.”
TF Mustang has primarily UH-60M Black Hawk, UH-60L Black Hawk, and CH-47F Chinook aircraft models that require non-stop maintenance at AAAB. Soldiers from different units were not all used to the same airframe to work on. For example, AMTs from New York were familiar with the UH-60M, whereas 2-149th GSAB’s Soldiers from Texas and Oklahoma were used to the UH-60M and UH-60L, yet only those from Oklahoma were familiar with the CH-47F aircraft.
Palacio deployed overseas five times in his career, bringing a wealth of experience in managing the avionics team, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter maintenance platoon, and back shops of personnel from different battalions he never worked with before. He discussed the challenges his team overcame throughout their past five months together.
“Everyone was nervous at first, and were not communicating because they didn’t know each other. No one knew what to expect,” he said. “But, because one person knows more than another person, everyone was able to learn more above their means. Once everyone began sharing their knowledge altogether, all of our mechanics advanced.”
After coordinating 15 morale barbecues, feeding over 75 Soldiers and neighbors stationed at AAAB, Palacio made tremendous efforts to build a strong bond across his assigned AMTs.
“We’ve been together for about four to five months, and it feels like we’ve known each other for a lifetime,” he added. “Our junior enlisted Soldiers have become more advanced and capable of completing tasks with minimal supervision. I now feel comfortable for them to go out on their own because of how much they’ve learned.”
Spc. Danny Pham, from Delta Company, 2-149th GSAB, accompanied by Spc. Reinaldo Brown, from Delta Company, 3-142nd AHB, who are both aircraft electricians in the aviation maintenance team, reflected on their first-ever assignments overseas.
“This is my first deployment. During our mobilization at Fort Hood, it felt overwhelming because I didn’t know anyone I was working with and I had little to no experience doing maintenance tasks all on my own,” said Pham. “The job can be stressful, but the people around me kept pushing each other to get work done.”
Pham credits Palacio and one of his assigned direct supervisors, Sgt. Michael Rivera, from Delta Company, 3-142nd AHB, for their leadership and guidance.
“Once at AAAB, everything started to get easier with maintenance plans and schedules,” he added. “I got more comfortable with it because of Sgt. 1st Class Palacio and Sgt. Rivera’s leadership—they provided me more insight and knowledge into the job. Our deployment is more fun than I expected it to be. It’s enjoyable.”
Spc. Stephon Johnson, UH-60 helicopter mechanic from Delta Company, 3-142nd AHB, as well as a prior-service Marine mechanic on the 6116 Osprey Tilt-rotor helicopter for five years, also felt the same way about adapting to the new op-tempo.
“First, during pre-mobilization, I was worried,” said Johnson. “A lot of guardsmen were nervous because they don’t do their job as much back home, as it isn’t the same type of maintenance as it is overseas. Back home, it isn’t as urgent to fix aircraft while waiting on parts as compared to here.”
Johnson was at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, for two months prior to joining the maintenance team at AAAB.
“For my first two months, it was a lot of work getting the aircraft ready at Camp Buehring, but here [at AAAB] the maintenance is more pressing—you have to move with more urgency because the aircraft cannot be down for an extended period of time,” he added. “But there is a better balance here for getting the job done and building unit cohesion. It feels like a family here.”
Spc. Collin Palmatier, avionics mechanic from Bravo Company, 449th ASB, focuses on electronic components for Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters.
“When I first got here, I had some challenges. It had been a while since my advanced individual training, but I was able to learn from several maintenance mistakes and apply best practices quickly,” said Palmatier. “It’s become rewarding to do my job. One of the good things I like about here is being with all the people in the shop. We all work and learn well together. Everyone misses home, but we keep it a happy work environment.”
Staff Sgt. Robert Aulet, section sergeant from Delta Company, 3-142nd AHB, oversees back shops that provide maintenance to sheet metal, prop rotor, power plant (engine), and hydraulics.
“Each shop plays a vital role to maintaining a high-operational rate to ensure our aircraft are safe and ready to launch,” commented Aulet. “Before our mobilization, no one knew how these shops were going to integrate across multiple work sites and units. This challenged all of us to step out of our comfort zone and learn how to work together.”
Aulet shared that it was important for him and fellow NCOs to build camaraderie and understand each other’s levels of experience. He also valued the challenges he faced and appreciated the leadership support when his shops needed it most.
“I don’t have a lot of experience working in all of these back shops. Taking charge of hydraulics and power plant shops was something I had to get comfortable with, and that started with learning the language and not sounding ignorant to the AMTs,” said Aulet. “The good and bad experiences motivated me to do what was best for my shops, and our leadership supported us when we needed it most. They really made it all come together and work in such a short notice.”
Staff Sgt. Zachary Gallant, avionics section sergeant for Bravo Company, 449th ASB, supervises 15 Soldiers within the aviation maintenance team.
“Merging five different states between three different units was a struggle,” said Gallant. “In the beginning of our tour, it took a little time to learn everybody’s maintenance level and work ethic, but eventually everything worked out. Now, we’re all very close.”
Gallant explained that their technicians have maintenance levels zero through three, which determine if a Soldier or AMT can work unsupervised. Maintenance levels zero to one cannot work unless they are supervised by personnel who are levels two or three. AMTs have to pass hands-on evaluations to advance onto the next level.
“At the beginning of our mission, about 80 percent of our AMTs started at level zero,” he said. “Since then we have increased everyone’s maintenance level, and we’ve determined that 75 percent of our total AMTs will be at level two by the time they are mission complete.”
Gallant appreciated his AMTs for their work performance and to his leadership, Capt. Adam Schilling, aviation platoon leader for Bravo Company, and Sgt. 1st Class Michael Luchini, platoon sergeant of Bravo Company.
“Most of my Soldiers are AMTs, and they’ve been very outgoing while keeping our maintenance flow very smooth,” said Gallant. “My direct leadership, Capt. Schilling and Sgt. 1st Class Luchini, have been terrific throughout our deployment. They’ve accomplished anything I have asked from them for my Soldiers because they have always been there if we ever needed them.”
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Franz Scott, aviation mission survivability officer (AMSO) and instructor pilot attached to Alpha Company, 3-142nd AHB, spoke greatly on the importance of avionics.
“Avionics is important, especially for the UH-60M models, as they are equipped with a heavy load of flight instruments,” said Scott. “The flight instruments and everything on it are heavily reliant on avionics, which make it critical to the success for any flight mission.”
Scott further emphasized how maintenance teams require their due diligence for aircraft safety and mission readiness.
“An aircraft that is deemed airworthy back at home station may not meet the same standards in a different location,” he said. It’s important to ensure that certain parts not used at home are properly functioning when we’re overseas. This adds more responsibility on our maintenance personnel performing airframe maintenance while on the ground and while flying, which keeps them busy.”
Staff Sgt. William Shaleesh, standardization instructor and UH-60 helicopter repairer attached to Alpha Company, 3-142nd AHB, has served in the Army National Guard for over 18 years and stands by the purpose of aviation maintenance.
“Maintenance is extremely important. We can’t do much without the other shops,” said Shaleesh. “Flight companies must depend on all the other shops working with the crew chiefs. Without them, we cannot do our jobs as crew chiefs or pilots.”
Shaleesh commended the team’s hard work at AAAB.
“The maintenance team here is one of the best maintenance teams I’ve worked with since my time in the National Guard,” commented Shaleesh. “I have seen every one of my own guys, including outside units and our own detachment of Soldiers from 3-142nd AHB, working tirelessly together. If one fails, we all fail. No one is an individual—we are all here together as one team.”
The Task Force Mustang maintenance team at AAAB continues to persevere through challenges as one team to earn mission success through their hard work and dedication to their flight companies.
|Date Posted:||12.23.2022 10:58|
|Location:||AL ASAD AIR BASE, IQ|
|Hometown:||AUSTIN, TX, US|
|Hometown:||LATHAM, NY, US|
|Hometown:||RONKONKOMA, NY, US|
|Hometown:||TROY, NY, US|