Detachment 2, Company B, 351st Aviation Support Battalion is based at the Michigan Army National Guard Aviation Support Facility in Grand Ledge. The unit’s battalion-level headquarters is in Sumter, South Carolina and the company headquarters is in Frankfort, Kentucky.
Staff Sgt. James Edgar has been with the unit a little more than two years and is the unit’s fulltime readiness noncommissioned officer. On drill weekends and during annual training, he is assigned as the maintenance section chief. He and Sgt. Jeffery Penfield, who is the fulltime supply sergeant and a Blackhawk helicopter technical inspector on drill weekends, manage the daily duties to support the 60-plus drill-status members assigned to the battalion.
The unit is staffed with members trained in a variety of military occupational skills required to maintain UH-60 Blackhawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters. These include quality control inspectors, maintenance test pilots, Blackhawk mechanics, Chinook mechanics, power plant mechanics, sheet metal repair, power train specialists, hydraulics repair, aircraft electricians and radio equipment repair.
According to Edgar, the equipment they have is not very impressive. By this, he means that the 351st is not assigned large equipment such as up-armored Humvees or tanks; but they have many tools.
“The fact that we can tear down CH-47 and UH-60 helicopters into a pile of parts and then put them back together in a matter of days as if they just came of the assembly line is the piece that is impressive,” said Edgar. “During a deployment, we complete approximately two UH-60 phases and two CH-47 phases per month.”
What is also impressive is the attention to detail the 351st members go to, in order to ensure accountability of their tools.
“As part of the accountability process, we must have each tool labeled. Our battalion has recently purchased a machine that will laser-engrave our tools,” said Penfield. “This process allows us to clearly label each tool, so if a tool is found, we can identify exactly what tool box it belongs to and who that box belongs to.”
Due to the amount of tools that 351st helicopter maintainers use, it is understandable the length they go to for accountability.
“In aviation, foreign object damage prevention is a big deal. To enforce FOD prevention, some of the steps taken are things like a FOD walk, which is a “police call” of the flight line to pick up anything that is not attached to the ground such as trash or small rocks that could be blown around by aircraft,” said Penfield. “We also conduct tool box inventories to ensure no tools are left on the aircraft. One small tool left in the wrong spot can cause a fatal incident, so this is taken very serious.”
At home station, they do major component and airframe repair that cannot be performed at the company level.
“We are the “Gas Monkey Garage” of Michigan’s aviation program. When an aircraft reaches a high number of flight hours it is sent to us to be rebuilt,” said Edgar. “By performing these phases, we help to insure the safety and availability of the fleet.”
According to Penfield, when an aircraft goes into “phase” all covers, fairings, engines, blades and several other components are removed, then 100 percent of the aircraft is inspected, cleaned and any issues that are discovered are repaired.
“We can also complete unscheduled maintenance. For example, on the 2009 deployment we had two UH-60’s that contacted each other while on the ground, the main rotor of one aircraft took out the tail of the second aircraft,” said Penfield. “The division commander witnessed the incident and believed both aircraft were a total loss. Members of the 351st had both aircraft back in the air in less than a month.”
For the unit members’ annual training period, they typically stay in Michigan and train at home station or Selfridge Air National Guard base, where their sister unit, Detachment 1, Company B, 3/238 ASB, is stationed.
Although Company B, 351st is a relatively small unit, they pull their own weight.
“We are able to complete tasks that units twice our manpower do,” said Edgar. “We do this because of the skills that our Soldiers bring to the table.”
Since the global war on terrorism began, the unit has deployed three times. The first deployment after Sept. 11, 2001 was to Balad, Iraq from November 2004 through October 2005. At the time, the unit was under Company F, 238th Aviation Battalion’s flag and deployed as a company. During the deployment, the unit provided phase maintenance and component repair, as well as repairs and parts support for the 18th Aviation Brigade. As a result of Company F’s support, the brigade was able to fly more than 60,000 combat flight hours.
In 2007, Company F, 238th reorganized as Detachment 2, Company B, 351st ASB. In 2009, 40 bravo company members deployed to support Operation Iraqi Freedom and provided theatre-wide
intermediate-level maintenance for aircraft in Tallil, Iraq.
Currently, the Company Commander Capt. Justin Brown is among 16 members of the 351st ASB at Fort Hood, Texas, for mobilization training before leaving for Kuwait. The battalion will support the 185th Theater Aviation Brigade and NATO allies in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Later this summer, a platoon-sized element of the 351st will also deploy to support OEF.
The unit has a dual mission statement. Their company mission statement defines them as a unit that provides theater-level logistics support to a theater aviation brigade. The brigade mission statement identifies their mission as: “disrupt or destroy enemy military forces, control land areas including populations and resources and be prepared to conduct combat operations to protect U.S. national interests.”
After speaking with Edgar and Penfield, one can identify another mission statement.
“We focus on the circle of importance theory. We work with the idea that we only exist to support the guys on the ground,” said Edgar. “It is our ‘soul mission’ to ensure that we put aircraft back in the air as fast as we can to support their mission. The helicopter is the fastest way on and off the battlefield. With that in mind, we sacrifice ourselves to maintain the fleet’s readiness.”