As they turn wrenches in Kuwait and Iraq, Wisconsin Army National Guard helicopter maintainers have also turned heads with their superior work.
“Our job is to keep aircraft flying so they are able to perform their various mission sets,” said Capt. Jared LeFaivre, who with approximately 25 Soldiers from the West Bend, Wisconsin-based Detachment 1, Company B, 248th Aviation Support Battalion (ASB), deployed to the Middle East late last year in support of Operation Spartan Shield. “I would say that we have been performing top-notch. There is always room for improvement, but the accolades that we get from the battalion and even the brigade let me know that we are on the right track.”
The 248th ASB maintains UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters at Camp Taji near Baghdad, Iraq, and Camp Buehring in northern Kuwait.
“Many of the helicopters have been in the theater for years and they have been ‘rode hard and put away wet,’” LeFaivre said. “The maintainers’ efforts do not go unnoticed.”
Soldiers at both camps do phase maintenance, an intensive procedure that requires two or three crews per aircraft, working day and night. They essentially dismantle, inspect, repair, and reassemble the aircraft, and also install modifications if necessary.
“Our mission is maintenance, so it doesn’t sound too interesting on paper, but we enable the medevac and flight companies to accomplish any mission they might get,” said Spc. Noelle Groenewold. “The thing that makes me most proud of my service is knowing that the aircraft I’m working on are flying missions in direct support of the fight against ISIS. Knowing that I have a hand in this fight, in a region that’s been at war almost my entire life, and that I’m making a difference no matter how small, is incredibly empowering and fills me with pride and love for my country.”
In addition to maintenance, the Soldiers have also relocated millions of dollars in parts and equipment while improving both Taji airfield and Udairi airfield at Camp Buehring.
“We’re the first aviation support battalion to be up here,” Groenwold explained, “so we were tasked with restructuring and supplying this location to support an ASB.”
Sgt. Johnny Donaldson said he’s proud of the maintenance quality he and his fellow Soldiers have accomplished.
“This has been a good training and learning opportunity for most of our junior Soldiers, and a great opportunity to sharpen their skills,” Donaldson said. “The best part thus far has been seeing the junior enlisted Soldiers build on their skill sets and improve greatly in their abilities to perform their duties.”
The Wisconsin unit integrated with Soldiers from Iowa, Tennessee and Louisiana — as well as a company from their parent brigade — to meet the maintenance demands of the mission.
“Everyone has been open to new teams and new ideas,” Chief Warrant Officer 3 Andrew Jarosinski said. “This has been key to our success and has also allowed Soldiers to grow in their new roles across the company.”
LaFaivre said many of the deployed Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers have filled leadership roles.
“Sgt. 1st Class Mike Morgan is leading the quality department in the south,” LeFaivre said. “Sgt. 1st Class Shane Strong is leading the technical inspectors up north, Staff Sgt. Cory Courtier has been tapped to be the platoon sergeant for the mechanics section in the south. Our two warrants have been selected to fly with the medevac company as the [unit] had come into theater lacking [pilots in command] and the experience that comes with that. Many of our younger Soldiers have also been tapped to be section leaders or project leaders. Everyone from top to bottom is very satisfied with the quality of our Soldiers.”
In spite of their busy schedule, the deployed Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers still make time to stay in touch with family and loved ones back home. They look forward to returning home this fall, but they understand the importance of their work.
“I think the key for everyone is establishing that routine that hopefully makes time go as quickly as possible,” said LaFaivre. “The work is hard and the days are long — we all just hope that we are doing some good in the area. I’d say that we are. Each of us play our own role in this whole concept that has been going on for the better part of 17 years. To be able to say I contributed to the betterment of a region is truly awesome.”