US Army, July 15, 2014 - CAMP BONDSTEEL by Capt Kevin Sandell, Kosovo Force (KFOR) - It was an uncommon sight in Kosovo. Eight UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters soared in a formation above the Kosovo countryside, June 28.
While significant, the flight was only achievable through the higher efforts of 45 aircraft repairers and technicians within the aviation maintenance company for Multinational Battle Group-East’s Southern Command Post, who worked tirelessly to ensure the battle group’s helicopters are consistently maintained.
For the company commander, the special flight was an opportunity to recognize the unit’s accomplishments in boosting the readiness of all assigned aircraft.
“Our goal coming into this deployment was to improve the readiness rate of the aircraft, streamline parts ordering and have aviation assets available to the commanders as much as possible,” said Capt. Curtis Rubendall, commander of B Company, 248th Aviation Support Battalion, Iowa Army National Guard. “The flight was the culmination of planning and execution of maintenance by the flight companies and our company to have everything aligned to make it possible.”
The maintenance company is headquartered in Boone, Iowa, and is comprised of power plant repair, sheet metal, prop and rotor, quality control, technical supply, production control, avionics and ground support equipment sections.
Rubendall said since the helicopters are a frequently-used asset throughout Kosovo, their upkeep is critical, and it is their responsibility to provide safe aircraft to each of the two flight companies.
“Our company’s role is to provide the SCP's flight companies safe, mechanically sound aircraft to conduct their missions,” Rubendall said. “Our goal is [also] to provide a high-quality product to the commanders that enable them to execute every mission that is required of MNBG-E and the SCP.”
The helicopters mechanics have exceeded many key milestones that were achieved by their Kosovo Force predecessors. B Company has increased the percentage of flying hours, an hour allocation that aviation units can fly, by over 17 percent from previous rotations. They also have to balance keeping aircraft mission capable when other aircraft are in phased maintenance, a process called bank time. The company’s record in balancing mission- capable aircraft with aircraft in maintenance has also increased nearly 35 percent.
To accomplish their mission, the aviation mechanics and technicians must often work demanding schedules, in some cases, 24-hour shifts. Staff Sgt. Alton Poole, maintenance noncommissioned officer-in-charge, said typical days vary based on the workload.
“The workload is sporadic at times. However, the team maintains a relatively high operation tempo throughout the week considering the flying program,” said Poole, an Ames, Iowa, native. “There are days the Soldiers conclude maintenance early, but that is usually after putting in 14 to 16 hours of work the day prior.”
Poole added challenges do exist, however, in supplying the repair parts needed for aircraft maintenance, and that a simple missing part can make-or-break the rigorous company maintenance schedules.
“We are sometimes faced with the challenge of acquiring the proper parts and tools necessary to perform a task. [It] becomes a challenge when there is a mission that [requires] the aircraft, but either the tool or equipment needed is not available,” Poole said.
Being in Kosovo, in a land locked region, does present certain challenges for parts supply, but the unit works through those issues by persistent maintenance checks by the Soldiers, Poole said.
Master Sgt. Anthony Aspengren, the company first sergeant, credited his unit with having a dedicated team of Soldiers whose selflessness is always evident.
“I am very proud to be a part of an outstanding organization. [The company] has a rich history of excellence. Our Midwest hard-work ethic has always helped us with our success in providing safe and reliable helicopters for our customers,” Aspengren, a Boone, Iowa native, said.
Deploying to Kosovo and seeing firsthand the impact of their mission on the Kosovo people, Poole said it is an honor to be part of the larger picture in Kosovo, and he appreciates the gratitude shown throughout the region.
“It’s not about me. I am more than grateful to have an opportunity to assist,” Poole said.
Rubendall echoed the feeling, and said the company’s mission ensures safety and security throughout Kosovo and ultimately helps the Kosovo people.
“Here you can meet the people that it affects the most. Hearing their stories, knowing that what we're doing here has some meaning and affects so many is an experience that you can't help but be proud of,” Rubendall said. “It is an honor to be a part of a mission that ensures the safety of a people and will allow them better opportunities to make a brighter future for themselves.”