There is no better exchange that proves more effective, helps solve problems and identifies better opportunities for efficiencies and improvement in products and services than a face-to-face interaction between all the stakeholders.
That’s exactly what transpired at the Utility Helicopters Users’ Conference May 22-24 at the Von Braun Center.
“This week is about our soldiers and those aircraft and our partners throughout the world,” Col. Thomas Todd, Utility Helicopters project manager, said. His office provides the life cycle management of the UH/HH-60 Black Hawks, the UH-72A Lakotas, and the Common Engine, and oversees these programs from “cradle to grave.”
The Utility Helicopters Project Office has a broad scope of responsibility managing the largest number of aircraft in the aviation fleet, coordinates foreign military sales to 28 partner nations, and supports other government agencies such as the Customs and Border Protection, Department of State, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“If we do nothing here other than to help you, that is a hundred percent success. That is the goal of the conference is to take your input and to turn around a better product,” Todd said.
More than 1,200 registrants that included soldiers, civilians, defense industry members and other government agency partners participated in the conference, which centered around workshops and breakout sessions between the main briefings. During the breakout sessions, soldiers have a real opportunity to speak candidly about what works, what doesn’t and provide suggestions on how to improve their aircraft’s products and services.
And it gives the program managers the benefit of that feedback straight from the users. They debate on the risks that may have to be mitigated in light of the current fiscal environment, and receive buy-in from the customer, the Soldier who may have to risk his or her life to use that system.
Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, program executive officer for aviation, provided opening remarks and challenged both soldiers and PMs to accomplish several goals during the conference.
“If you think these things are valuable, step up to the plate and tell them so,” he said to the soldiers. “If you leave here without questioning, if you leave here with a thought that you have not shared with the team, then you have failed as a member of this team. This is your opportunity to share that feedback.”
To the program managers, Crosby said to encourage soldiers to talk to their chain of command when they go home and start the flow of information.
“Build that bond and trust,” he said. “We’ve organized what we call the fleet manager in the PM shop. Let them get you the answers. You’ve got enough to do to fight a war.”
Crosby said his main concern is in the Army’s future investments. The first impulse during our hard economic times is to cut long-range programs. “We don’t need it – today.” But 10 years from now when the “Mike” or “M” model of the Black Hawk starts to get old, “we’ll look behind us and there is nothing there.”
“We’re going to have to take some risk and readiness in some areas, and we’re not going to be able to do everything we want to do,” he said, stressing the importance of prioritization and balance in approach as Army aviation looks to the future. “We’re going to have to have organizations like this that come together to prioritize what we can go after. Understand that we’ll give as much as we can, but we’re not going to get everything we need.”
Crosby talked about the road to Future Vertical Lift, the Army’s next generation of vertical lift aircraft that will have improved avionics, electronics, range, speed, propulsion, survivability, operating altitudes and payload capacity. “I don’t want my children flying the ‘Tango’ model Apache,” he said, quoting Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, commander of the Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker.
“We must afford it. We’ve got to find a way,” Crosby said.
Staff Sgt. Marshall Cook, a Black Hawk crew chief with A Company, 1-168th General Support Aviation Battalion with the Idaho National Guard, attended the conference for the first time. He recently returned from Task Force Odin, and said that the soldiers from his company have told him what they need, get as much information as he can from the conference, and “be thinking about what to get ready for.”
“It’s really nice to see all the different things that’s being offered for the helicopter,” Cook said. One of biggest concerns from his unit is getting the parts they need. “Meeting the right people here we can call and say, hey, we have this issue, how do we this and what do we do. That’s the benefit I’m finding.”
Staff Sgt. Michael Hamilton, a flight medic from F Company, 2-135th Aviation in Colorado, was excited to check out the new innovations in the aviation field. “I’m hoping to get some insight on that and getting the right people involved to make the aircraft more user friendly,” he said. One of the main benefits about the conference, he said, was to be able to discuss different aircraft configurations and ways to improve the system with soldiers from other units and the people that manage the program.
Despite the cutbacks in the Army’s budget, Crosby stressed the importance of minimizing the impact on the Soldiers. “You are going to get what you need when you need it,” Crosby said.
“Sometimes when we’re in that austere budget environment where we have to make choices, we definitely don’t want to get rid of something that they value,” Todd said. “It is important for the program manager to know the things Soldiers need to keep.”
“This conference prioritizes our efforts,” Todd said. It also takes their other concerns and places them in mid-term and long-term goals, some of which may be for FVL, and others for improvements to the Black Hawks or the Lakotas. “We’re concerned about what we can provide 10 years from now, but also what we need to do for their next deployment.”
Todd presented the 2011 Master of Readiness Awards during the conference and recognized the highest average Full Mission Capability rate during the previous calendar year in four categories. It recognizes the organization’s outstanding efforts in maintaining Black Hawk as the ultimate utility platform.
Award categories and recipients were:
â€¢ Assault Battalion/ACS Awards -- 2nd Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment from Fort Drum, N.Y.
â€¢ General Support Aviation Battalion – 3rd Battalion, 82nd Aviation Regiment from Fort Bragg, N.C.
â€¢ General Support Aviation Battalion (outside the continental U.S.) – 2nd Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, K-16 from Seoul Air Base, Republic of Korea and 3rd Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment from Camp Humphreys, Republic of Korea
â€¢ National Guard Assault Battalion/ACS – 1st Squadron, 230th Air Cavalry Regiment from Smyrna, Tenn.
â€¢ National Guard/Reserve General Support Aviation Battalion – 1st Battalion 214th Aviation Battalion from Fort Knox, Ky.
“You remain the main reason we exist,” Crosby said. “A lot of what we do, the excursions that we go on, the improvements that we make to the aircraft to sustain the system – a lot of those things come and they start right here.
“We’ll break our backs to support you.”
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