JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
The U.S. Army’s 128th Aviation Brigade, located at Fort Eustis, Va., provides U.S. Army Soldiers the training and education to repair and maintain some of the Army’s most effective combat helicopters used today.
The education taking place within its classrooms and simulators provides a starting point for ongoing training to keep helicopters combat ready and achieve strategic success.
Students spend 24 weeks in initial training, learning the building blocks of being a 15Y MOS, the military occupational specialty responsible for the Boeing AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter (AH-64) armament, electrical, avionics systems, and repairs. The academic structure begins with in-depth classroom curriculum, which students will later apply during hands-on training with simulators in the hangar bay.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jared Blacketer is assigned to the 128th Aviation Brigade as a 15Y-10 Level Instructor, and provides new Soldiers with their first steps toward being proficient maintainers of Apache class helicopters.
“If they don’t get that hands-on aspect they would be so far behind the curve when they report to their units that they wouldn’t be able to put anything into practice,” says Blacketer. “So we have to utilize both the classroom theory and the trainers to get that hands-on experience, and get them ready for their first duty station.”
These future maintainers will be responsible for identifying repairing, and troubleshooting any issues with the AH-64. This includes preventive maintenance, ensuring weapons systems and other electronics are all functioning properly, and keeping timely records of repairs and safety checks.
“We are the next in line to keep these helicopters going, and we should definitely know everything we can about them before we hit the field,” said Pfc. Brady Peckinpaugh, a student assigned to the unit. “This way we can implement it all once we get to our duty stations, and be able to expedite a lot of processes that we’re learning here.”
Instructors understand, through the learning plans, students will also need to build more than knowledge and experience.
“My confidence is growing a lot, and I’m working with one of the coolest helicopters we have to offer,” Peckinpaugh said. “There’s not much that can beat working on this type of aircraft, so it definitely has gone up quite a bit.”
Technology in modern warfare continues to evolve and develop, which in turn requires more training and education for these Soldiers to ensure mission success.
“As an aircraft maintainer, it doesn’t matter the airframe, you’re always learning and the training is [as] on-going as updates are constantly being made to the software or new equipment installations; there is always a chance to learn more,” says Blacketer. “I’ve been doing this for 12 years and I’m constantly learning even after I received my initial training here. I wasn’t a subject matter expert right away, but I left here with the motivation to learn more with those basic building blocks to make sure I was going to be successful.”
Some course lessons challenge students with factors beyond manuals and hardware. In some instances they will be challenged with time and their local environment.
“We don’t make everything easy for the students, such as the weapons system, the gun turret system and the ammunition handling system, which can take several hours to complete,” Blacketer said. “They begin to see some of the challenges that 15Y maintainers experience while out in the heat to get the job done.”
The U.S. Army has more than 1,200 Apache helicopters in its inventory. With a top speed of 227 miles per hour and a weight of over 11,000 pounds, it offering Soldiers something unique.
“I’ve actually found the training here to be more fun than just a standard job, so I don’t really find it to be overly stressful,” Packinpaugh said. “Our sergeants and civilians here are very informative and they’ve taught me quite a bit so I’m grateful for the instructors we have. They teach subjects in various methods to help me learn and see different ways of doing things without us having to make up our own ways.”
For Blacketer, this introduction to Army aviation is more than just training.
“When these Soldiers leave here I hope they have the tenacity to learn more and truly care about their jobs,” Blacketer said. “I want them to have a passion to become better maintainers, learn other systems and be better experts with the aircraft as a whole with motivation to learn about new systems or upgrades as they’re introduced into the field.”