When members of the Connecticut Air National Guards 1109th aviation classification and repair
activity depot heard last February that they were going to be deployed
to Kuwait within days, eyebrows were raised.
Although they did not know it at the time, these guardsmen were
on the leading edge of a fresh doctrine for the use of the Guard
and Reserve for wartime maintenance. The U.S. military sees great
advantages in moving logistics units to temporary bases close to
the front lines. Those comfortable with garrison duty had to think
differently; the days of repairing equipment from domestic bases
were fading fast.
The more we can repair forward, the better we are at keeping
the fleet flying, said Lt. Col. William Shea, commander of
the 1109th AVCRAD, now rotated home.
In all, 200 AVCRAD guardsmen were sent to Fort Drum, N.Y., to prepare
for deployment. We qualified in minus 40 degree weather to
operate in the desert, Shea said wryly. The 1109th AVCRAD
has more than 175 full-time employees and an additional 200 part-timers.
Adding to the stress of their impending deployment, he added, was
an utter lack of mobility, since the unit was constructed to operate
solely from its domestic base in Groton, Conn. Every tactical vehicle
they would need in theater had to be scrounged from other Guard
units, from Maine to Oregon.
We borrowed them from everywhere, Shea recalled. We
were forward deployed for weeks before the equipment arrived.
AVCRAD is a support unit that specializes in maintaining helicopters.
The 1109th operates in one of only four facilities of its type in
the U.S. Army. It supports 23 aviation facilities and approximately
This large-scale deployment of Guard and Reserve maintenance units
is uncommon, according to Dennis Wightman, program manager at the
Logistics Management Institute.
The novelty is that an entire unit was called to duty, rather
than selecting members to be called, he said. This certainly
seems to indicate the increasing reliance on Guard resources.
During previous conflicts, groups of maintainers from depots, AVCRAD
units and other bases would set up shop close to the action. They
were chosen for their expertise in repairing battle-damaged systems.
Adding to the mix is the militarys shift from three-level
maintenancefield, intermediate and baseto just two,
which takes advantage of fast-moving distribution channels. Without
the security, staff and resources of a large, intermediate base,
costs could be cut dramatically with little increase in turnaround
time. When you take advantage of expedited transportation,
you can reduce the footprint, Wightman said.
Some of the maintenance would have to be taken up by front-line
units. There has been some concern over the division
of labor involved in this new approach, Wightman added, but he estimated
that only 10 percent of the work was shouldered by forward deployed
maintainers, with 90 percent going back to depots.
For Shea and his crews, the experience of deployment was only the
first surprise. The 1109th was filling roles for which it had never
Their list of expected duties included assessing and rehabilitating
damaged National Guard aircraft, coordinating shipments of severely
damaged equipment to Germany or the United States and searching
for spare parts among other bases and depots. Critical repairsevery
day we had half a dozen, Shea said, citing engine problems
and damage to helicopter blades.
But the demands of war expanded their job descriptions. The 1109th
was tasked to maintain Patriot missile batteries, move from Camp
Doha to a new base, Camp Arifjan, and establish a heliport there,
monitor test flights on repaired equipment, back up the Marine aviation
maintainers and provide perimeter security for the airfield.
Thats the strength of maintainers; their skills are
not necessarily unique to a single piece of equipment, Wightman
noted. Theres no reason they cant take on other
systems that are similar.
The brutal conditions played havoc with the sensitive aircraft
gear. We were literally pulling handfuls of sand from
engines, Shea said. The Army is now putting barrier filters
on Blackhawks and Chinooks.
He added that the unit suffered from a lack of clean rooms and
warehouses where equipment could be kept away from the elements.
During their deployment the unit repaired more than 1,800 parts,
140 aircraft, four of which were heavily damaged. They performed
without the help of any contractors until October 2003.