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NEWS | Feb. 12, 2013

The 1-210th Aviation Regiment: Training the world's best helicopter maintainers

By Senior Airman Jason J. Brown 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The 128th Aviation Brigade, located at Fort Eustis, Va., serves as the indoctrination channel for all enlisted U.S. Army aviation Soldiers. Every Soldier, charged with serving around the globe to keep Army helicopters airborne and in the fight, passes through the classrooms and hangars of the brigade, leaving with world-class training that allows them to support Army aviation objectives.

The 1st Battalion, 210th Aviation Regiment, one of three subordinate units in the brigade, commands, controls and provides administrative and logistical support for aviation instructors and cadre in three companies. The companies - A, B, and C - execute Advanced Individual and Military Occupational Speciality reclassification training for six aviation career fields.

Additionally, the 1-210th provides Advanced Leader Courses, a 15K Aircraft Components Repair Supervisor Senior Leaders Course and 151A Warrant Officer basic and advanced courses. The battalion even invites and trains technicians from allied nations, demonstrating the Army's expertise and capabilities in military aviation.

The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Vernon Miles, said the unit's primary focus is "to provide unsurpassed training, ensuring U.S. Army aviation brigades and partner nations have the best-qualified helicopter maintainers in the world."

Each company trains its enlisted Soldiers in a specific airframe or skill. A Co. trains Soldiers how to perform maintenance on the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior scout helicopter. Soldiers from two MOS codes are assigned to the company: 15S students learn general aircraft maintenance, while 15J students learn armament and electrical system maintenance.

A Co. also trains the Army's 151A aviation maintenance technician warrant officers in leadership and professional military education courses. Miles said most warrant officers coming through the battalion were prior enlisted technicians, and are now "focusing less on turning wrenches and more on management."

B Co. trains Soldiers to maintain the AH-64D Apache attack helicopter. Like A Co., B Co. also trains two enlisted MOS fields: 15R troops learn general maintenance, and 15Y students learn armament and electrical systems for the Apache.

The third company, C Co., trains students in electrical and avionics systems. Unlike the Soldiers in the adjacent companies, C Co. students learn "across the board" maintenance skills that are used universally across the Army's helicopter fleet.

Approximately 3,400 Soldiers attended training at the 1-210th Avn. Rgt. in 2012, with more than 3,600 students scheduled to train per year in 2013 and 2014, according to Nello Lopez, the battalion's deputy commander. To accommodate the large number of students, classes are scheduled 24 hours a day, six days a week.

The increase in enrollment is in contrast to recent cuts in military spending due to budget constraints. Miles said the emphasis on Army aviation in the current and future battlespace is driving the increased training. Many of the incoming students will likely receive orders to the newly-formed 4th Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Carson, Colo.

"Through the last 11 years of combat, commanders and general officers across the Army have said 'Whatever you do, don't touch Army aviation.' It's no longer a 'nice to have' asset like it was in [the Vietnam War] - it's critical," he explained. "Our number of students here has been uptempo to get the Soldiers prepared to go forward and fill the positions."

With the increased focus on aviation comes cutting-edge technologies. The battalion possesses more than $1.6 billion in training devices, in addition to operational aircraft. These devices, which include cross-sections and hulls of helicopters, allow instructors to simulate hundred of training scenarios for students without impacting the mission readiness of actual helicopters.

Miles said the most important elements taught in the battalion's courses are safety and critical thinking, as maintainers cannot perform in today's Army without either.

"I always ask 'What is an aviation mechanic?' Sure, he fixes aircraft, but that's only a small portion of his job. The bigger picture is that he's an analyst. He has to figure out what the problem is first," said Miles. "You're out in combat situation, and an aircraft comes back in broken. It could have combat damage, or it may be something the pilots did, or perhaps just normal wear and tear. That mechanic has a very little bit of time to analyze the problem, figure out what's wrong, go back into the manuals, follow the steps and procedures, order the parts, fix it, and get it prepared to fly its next mission."

"We got a lot of kids who know how to turn wrenches and know what the tools are, but they don't yet have what we call 'Aviation Pride,'" Lopez added. "We always teach safety first, then we focus on critical thinking. They can all follow procedures, but they learn to do it safely and precisely."

While the high-tech training devices give Soldiers the tools of the trade, Miles and Lopez said the unit's 254 instructors are the "true keys to success." The battalion boasts experienced Soldiers and civilian professionals as instructors, many who have worked their entire careers in military aviation.

The commander said their wealth of experience earned them the job, and that the 1-210th focuses on hiring the best possible instructors. Today's youth grew up in an era flush with electronic devices, toys and games, which Miles said presents a challenge for instructors working to acclimate young Soldiers with hands-on maintenance practices.

"Most of our Soldiers grew up with touchscreens and video games. They haven't worked with mechanics before. In this environment, they'll be working on the most expensive and sophisticated machinery in the U.S. Army," said Miles. "Our instructors bring these to be able to work with tools on multi-million dollar aircraft in the middle of the night in combat situations to get it ready for the fight, and they need to teach it in a way that these Soldiers can keep it in their minds and be able to perform it all repeatedly.

" The instructors here are the pivotal point of this command," he added. "They are what allows us to train the best maintainers in the world."