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The Need for Cross-Training at the Company Level

In times when the number of Soldiers needed to complete the mission is not available, cross-training personnel enables maintenance sections to repair equipment more quickly, thus helping keep maneuver units functional.

It is said that the new modular brigade combat team was designed to be self-sufficient at the battalion level without needing outside support. This is true if the brigade is operating in the manner for which it was conceived. However, we all have seen deviations from the modular design and the push to “do more with less.” This is why cross-training battalion personnel is more essential now than ever.

During previous rotations to Afghanistan, one maintenance support team was sent to support each forward maneuver battalion. However, when the 710th Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) deployed to Afghanistan in 2006, it had to support four organic maneuver battalions—and even the brigade special troops battalion acting as a maneuver battalion—and attached battalions, covering over 30 forward operating bases (FOBs). Each of the new forward support companies can support its respective battalion at one or two different locations, but when spread over four or five FOBs each, their small numbers of Soldiers with low-density military occupational specialties (MOSs) were stretched to the breaking point.

Defining the Problem

While in Afghanistan, G Company, 710th BSB, was responsible for providing direct support to the 4–25 Field Artillery Battalion, so it trained automotive mechanics to assess and repair howitzers, which were located at seven different locations. This was one of the simpler tasks, albeit still difficult. In B Company, which is the BSB’s maintenance company, we decided to send out our ground support equipment maintenance technician (a chief warrant officer) and a Soldier to assess and repair the air conditioning (A/C) and materials-handling equipment (MHE) at each FOB. The MOSs responsible for repairing this equipment (62B, construction equipment repairer, and 52C, utilities equipment repairer) are some of the most critical shortage MOSs in the modular brigade combat team design used in Afghanistan.

My unit had only three A/C mechanics. However, one of those was attached to a maintenance support team and one was assigned as a platoon sergeant. I was left with one A/C mechanic, one generator mechanic cross-trained to do A/C work, one engineer equipment mechanic, one quartermaster equipment repairer cross-trained for MHE, and my equipment maintenance technician to provide support to the entire Regional Command East.

Solving the Problem

To solve this problem, we established a mobile maintenance team consisting of the above-mentioned warrant officer and Soldier. This team spent over 5 1⁄2 months traveling to the FOBs and repairing A/C units in high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles, the need for which had increased sharply as the temperatures began to rise during the spring.

Regardless of the temperature, MHE was in constant use, and the only authorized engineering mechanics who worked on hydraulics were assigned to the support platoon of the brigade special troops battalion. However, we had managed to retain one engineering mechanic during our transformation from the Army of Excellence to the modular brigade and had a quartermaster equipment repairer cross-trained to repair MHE. Between the two of them, they had constant work at FOB Salerno. They also were sent out to provide MHE maintenance support at other FOBs since most of them had MHE but no one who could repair it.

Although the mobile maintenance team did a lot of great work, the need to send them out could have been alleviated with better cross-training before deployment. Many mechanics had received a quick A/C familiarization before deploying, but, without real systems to work on and obtain hands-on experience, they quickly forgot what they had been told. Almost no mechanics received any type of training on MHE. If more time could be spent on cross-training and hands-on experience, the need to send such teams out for extended lengths of time could be avoided.

Captain Charles L. Arnold is the Commander of B Company, 710th Brigade Support Battalion, 3d Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, at Fort Drum, New York. He holds a B.S. degree in chemical engineering from Case Western Reserve University and is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course and the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course.