by Captain Willie Rios III
One combat service support unit discovers ways to take on new missions, continue to meet the needs of its customers, and improve the services it offers.
With the end of the Cold War in the early 1990's, many unique combat service support units were inactivated as a part of the overall drawdown within U.S. Army, Europe (USAREUR). However, the support provided by these units was still in high demand. One solution was to consolidate maintenance services in many of the general support (GS) maintenance units in the theater. One unit in particular, the Equipment Support Center, Mannheim (ESCM), 51st Maintenance Battalion, in Germany, took on many of the diverse missions that still had to be performed throughout USAREUR. The unit has undergone many changes since its inception in 1945. The result of these changes is a multifunctional combat service support unit that is effectively equipped to support theater readiness.
With the deactivation of the USAREUR Bridge-Park in 1992, ESCM assumed the mission of maintaining and repairing all engineer bridging assets throughout Europe. This new mission included the storage and care of all Army war reserve bridging stocks within the theater. The stocks were issued to both active and reserve component units rotating through and training within the theater.
Another unit, the 8908th Civilian Support Group, also was deactivated in 1992, and ESCM assumed its mission to provide GS maintenance repair of tracked vehicles. This included repair of major end-items and components, such as fire-control equipment, under the Army Working Capital Fund program (formerly known as the Defense Business Operating Fund). ESCM also assumed the major end-item repair mission under the GS maintenance program.
Not Your Ordinary Maintenance Company
ESCM is a clear example of a diverse unit whose mission has been expanded; one that truly fits the mold of a multifunctional maintenance company. The unit's mission statement can be broken down into several categories. Its primary mission is to provide GS maintenance with a limited depot repair capability. Additional missions include bridging and engineer and electronic base operations (BASOPS) missions. The goal set by the commanders of both the 29th Support Group and the 51st Maintenance Battalion is to ensure a high readiness rate for all supported units by delivering an efficient and high quality product and by providing the best possible service to their customers.
GS Maintenance Mission
ESCM executes the European theater's GS maintenance program as directed by the 21st Theater Army Area Command (TAACOM) for theater sustainment maintenance management and the 29th Support Group for local sustainment maintenance management. Using integrated sustainment maintenance concepts and principles, ESCM repairs over 1,000 class VII end items and subcomponents yearly. Under the Army's Working Capital Fund program, ESCM is responsible for repairing unserviceable subcomponents and returning them to the supply system for future use. These subcomponents include engines and transmissions from the M88A1 armored recovery vehicle, M60A1 armored vehicle launch bridge, M915A1 truck tractor, and M939 cargo truck; fire control equipment, including laser rangefinders, from M1A1 and M2A2 combat vehicles; thermal receiver units; control boxes and sight units; and automotive end items from the tractor-truck series.
ESCM's success comes from repairing those items that bring about the greatest potential cost avoidance to the theater as well as those items within USAREUR that require a high readiness rate. To date, the repair of fire-control equipment has realized the greatest return. To ensure that ESCM remains in the forefront of GS maintenance, several new programs and equipment acquisitions have taken place within the last year. Because of these innovations, ESCM has built a reputation throughout USAREUR as the leader for both efficiency and quality within the maintenance community.
GS Bridging and Boating Repair
Bridging repair is an area still in much demand within USAREUR. This was very evident during Operation Joint Endeavor and Operation Joint Guard. ESCM is the only Army unit within the theater that is capable of repairing both bridging and boating equipment to GS standards. This is due, in large part, to the assumption of USAREUR's bridge park mission and to personnel who have the experience and knowledge needed to repair such high-demand equipment. The majority of repairs center on the armored vehicle launched bridge (AVLB), interior bridging sections, and MK1/2 bridge boats. During fiscal year 1997, over 75 percent of all GS repair and return job orders directly affected equipment readiness for those units deployed in support of Operation Joint Endeavor and Operation Joint Guard.
ESCM also provides onsite maintenance and repair by employing maintenance contact teams throughout Germany. These teams are responsible for repairing the vast majority of the AVLB fleet within USAREUR at the units' locations. This type of support directly impacts the state of readiness within USAREUR by reducing transportation waiting time, transportation cost, and maintenance time to repair.
Repairmen work on an M88A1 recovery vehicle engine.
Another key mission that makes ESCM so diverse involves the repair of commercial electronic equipment. This long-standing mission of the ESCM recently was consolidated with the mission of the 29th Support Group Maintenance Center of Excellence, Wurzburg, Germany. Under this program, ESCM repairs and classifies electronic equipment throughout Germany by employing maintenance contact teams to either repair on site or provide pick-up and delivery of equipment for customers. In an average month, this 19-person section averages well over 400 maintenance job orders.
ESCM also manages a 2½ year onsite apprenticeship program for approximately 18 students a year. This program was established in 1965 by the Army in conjunction with the states within Germany. After the students are trained on Army systems and commercial equipment, they can be employed within the system. Currently, 40 percent of ESCM's personnel have graduated from this program. Eighty percent of each graduating class is employed within ESCM. The other graduates have the training and experience necessary for employment within the civilian sector.
21st Century Efficiencies
One of the innovations currently underway at ESCM that will ensure that ESCM remains competitive well into the 21st century is the fielding of a state-of-the-art engine test stand. During fiscal year 1997, ESCM was awarded a contract to modify its existing test stands. The updated test stands will ensure that quality products are returned to the Army supply system. They will be equipped with the latest computer digital technology, much like that used by civilian maintenance contractors and other production industries.
One of the challenges that ESCM faces every day is providing repairs at the lowest cost possible. ESCM has employed many techniques within the last year to master this tremendous challenge. One of them is the adoption of the inspect and repair only as necessary (IROAN) concept. While this is not a new concept, many of the employees have adopted IROAN into their everyday lives this past year due to a more astute awareness of competition from outside sources and other units. Other techniques ESCM has employed include the creation of a research and development team, the implementation of ISO 9001 operational standards, and the reorganization of sections into work centers.
The research and development team is responsible for researching future repair candidates as well as analyzing equipment and repair trends. This team, which was established in July 1997, has increased the potential of ESCM's repair program by 85 percent. One unique equipment purchase that the team recommended was a specially modified endoscope. The endoscope, much like the one used in the medical community, allows the repair mechanic to view the internal condition of an unserviceable engine. The endoscope will reduce the repair cost substantially by allowing the mechanic to gain visibility without disassembling the entire engine.
|M88A1 recovery vehicle transmission being repaired.|
In October 1998, ESCM was awarded ISO 9001 certification, making it the only Army unit within Europe with this honored distinction. This certifies that ESCM has documented quality processes and efficient procedures to achieve customer satisfaction in all that it produces. ISO 9001 is an industrial certification process, known worldwide within the industrial community, that adds credibility to an operation both internally and externally. Internally, the benefits include an improved quality system, improved products, increased competitiveness, and commitment to quality. Externally, customers can expect consistency in both quality and delivery.
Finally, ESCM is restructuring its work force in conjunction with ISO 9001 and total quality management procedures. To ensure that quality processes are integrated throughout its facility, ESCM has restructured the makeup of its quality control personnel within the work centers and teams. Work teams consisting of three to four personnel, a supply clerk, and a quality control representative also have been established within the centers.
Units like ESCM add credibility and flexibility to the theater by sustaining critical maintenance functions that are in high demand. The future of the Army is to develop and integrate units like these into multifunctional maintenance companies and centers that will meet readiness and sustainment maintenance demands of the future. ALOG
Captain Willie Rios III currently is participating in the Army's Training With Industry program at Supervalu, Inc., in Seattle, Washington. Previously, he was the commander of the Equipment Support Center-Mannheim, 51st Maintenance Battalion. He is a graduate of the Field Artillery Officer Basic, Airborne, Nuclear Warhead Detachment, Aerial Delivery and Materiel, and Combined Logistics Officer Advanced Courses.