Asset care doesn't change much between the warzone and the industrial plant

When it comes to asset care, a war zone and an industrial plant have much in common.

By Ricky Smith

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Until recently, I was a company commander of a maintenance company stationed in Kuwait in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. My specialty in civilian life is industrial and facility maintenance. My unit supports all U.S. military units (Army, Marine, Navy and Air Force) stationed in Kuwait, passing through to Iraq, and returning home. We supplied them with all types of maintenance, including vehicle recovery, vehicle repair, generator repair (to 1,000 kW), A/C repair (on vehicles and facilities), weapons repair, and fabrication and installation of armor plates on all types of U.S. Army vehicles.

We provide support in Iraq to coalition forces (Polish, Czech, Mongolian and Bulgarian, among others). My soldiers entered Najaf by convoy when the big fight was going on there. In fact, the convoy in front of ours was attacked and the convoy behind was attacked. Ours wasn’t hit. My unit operated under what we call “guns up.” That means we were ready to fight at all times. Most insurgents are looking for easy prey, not risky targets that may get them killed. Of course, flying our Jolly Roger flag didn’t hurt our image.

My unit hit the ground running. In April 2005, when all supply convoys in Iraq were being destroyed, we were ordered to repair more than 135 broken Military Police Humvees and to armor them for convoy security. During this time, my soldiers worked more than 35,000 labor-hours to accomplish this task in less than three weeks. We changed more than 3,000 parts, including engines, transmissions, brake systems and the like during the mission. Once these vehicles were sent back north, convoys could begin to roll again.

During the year, my soldiers responded in one way or another to everything you saw on the news. We are one of two units involved with adding armor to vehicles going to Iraq. A few months ago, a soldier asked Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld about the vehicle armoring program in Iraq. The soldier, who was complaining about not having armor on military vehicles, didn’t tell the whole story.

What angered his unit was that they wanted more armor than what was being given to them. The problem is that the world doesn’t have enough armor plate to provide every unit with all the armor they feel is needed. The quantity of armor and where it goes has been based on reports from drivers whose vehicles were hit with small arms fire, RPGs and IEDs. If we gave this soldier’s unit all the armor it wanted, other units might not get any armor at all. Also, the vehicles we armor have a maximum load limit. If we overload a vehicle with too much armor plating, it will suffer premature failure. I know, because we see it all the time. So, don’t believe everything you hear.

Something I’ve found to be true about working in a war zone with a focus mainly on vehicle maintenance is that “maintenance is maintenance,” no matter what maintenance field you’re in. Typically, equipment isn’t maintained very well in the absence of a strong management commitment to maintenance. More than 90% of the equipment we repaired had unnecessary failures that probably wouldn’t have occurred if proper operation and maintenance procedures were followed (even in a war zone).

I know all of you have heard things like “We don’t have time to do all of this maintenance” or “We’ll get to maintenance after we complete all of the problems we have.” If you hear those statements, you’re not alone, but maybe you need to reexamine your maintenance process. Military units that performed maintenance properly and on schedule didn’t have untimely breakdowns, such as during an ambush or firefight. Yes, I know your situation is different, but believe me maintenance is maintenance.

If you learn one thing today, I hope it’s that in maintenance you aren’t alone, and many of us face the same issues you face on a daily basis. On my best day, I only had 40% of my mechanics available to work on equipment. The rest of them were on force protection or other additional duties. With a background in maintenance management, I understand the problem.

My U.S. Army Reserve unit returned home recently, and I’m looking forward to getting back to the technical training company I own. My unit appreciated support from all over the world during the past year’s deployment. I met many of my maintenance buddies in Iraq and Kuwait and, yes, maintenance is a small world.

Contributing Editor Ricky Smith, CMRP, is president of Maxzor in Charleston, S.C. You can contact him at ricky.smith@success-in-training.com.

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