Story and photos by Sgt. Daniel Schroeder, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs – Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan – There are hundreds of missions in the Army that require the support of aircraft. In order for those aircraft to provide that support, electrical, avionic, engine and weapon systems must be in proper working order.
For the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter, mechanics with the military occupational specialty of 15J, also known as “Armament Dawgs,” maintain the avionics, electrical and weapon systems of the aircraft.
When the nickname “Armament Dawgs was given to the 15Js, they were working on the weapons of the AH-1 Cobra with the MOS 68J. With the change from 68 to 15 series, Soldiers are trained in more areas than just aircraft armament and missile systems.
“Daily tasks of a J include gun services, filling radios, cleaning rocket pods, checking the coolant level on the mast turret assembly, and performing aviation intermediate maintenance (AVIM) and aviation unit maintenance (AVUM) tasks,” said Sgt. Cam Richardson, an OH-58D systems repairer with Troop D, 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, and a native of Kaimuki, Hawaii.
“AVUM tasks are maintenance procedures we can complete at the lowest level, ours. We can perform certain AVIM tasks, maintenance procedures at the level above us, which arise. Examples of those are troubleshooting more complex issues in the avionics, electrical and mission systems that keep the aircraft flying.”
During the troubleshooting phase, the 15Js must be able to understand the system as a whole to locate the source of the fault.
Technical manuals are present during the troubleshooting, removal, and installation of any part in the aircraft. Along with the manuals, wiring diagrams are referenced to help track down faults ranging from a faulty part to a frayed wire. Upon completion of each possible solution, a maintenance operational check is performed.
Another aspect of maintenance 15Js take part in is Periodic Phase Maintenance (PPM). PPMs are conducted at a set number of flight hours so as to have minimal downtime for the aircraft. Instead of days or weeks, the Kiowas are down for just hours. 15Js perform tasks on only two of the 15 PPMs for the Kiowa.
During these two maintenance sessions, the 15Js perform operational checks on chip detectors, weapon systems, circuit breakers, and remove, disassemble and reassemble the Alkan racks.
“I can’t get enough of my job,” said Pfc. Connor Morganstein, also an OH-58D Systems Repairer assigned to D/2-6 CAV, 25th CAB, and a native of Seymour, Tenn. “I get the feeling of accomplishment from working on something, finding and fixing the fault and watching the aircraft fly away and return safely.”
Like working on the electrical and missions, troubleshooting the weapons systems incorporates the same principles; however, working on the M3P .50 caliber machine gun sometimes present faults not on the aircraft. During these issues, the “Armament Dawg” takes over.
Troubleshooting gun issues are not limited to when the aircraft shutdown.
When these problems arise, the aircraft lands at the Forward Arming and Refueling Point where the 15Js are waiting ready to fix it.
When a pilot returns from an engagement with a gun jam, the Js must think fast and make on-the-spot corrections to repair the gun.
“I enjoy working at the FARP loading weapons,” said Morganstein.
“I know what we are loading is helping the guys on the ground, even though we don’t see it. Because of that, we do our best to fix any issue or load them as fast as we can to get them back in the air to provide that aerial support.”
Regular taskings on the FARP for 15Js are to make sure the aircraft is safe by grounding it and checking the weapon systems, receive pilot instruction on what they need, and relay those requests to the other personnel on the pad. After relaying the pilot’s requests, they begin loading up the aircraft with the desired ammunition load.
“I love being a J and working on helicopters,” Richardson said. “In my past deployments, I have seen them fly overhead and pull security for me. I feel like I am making a difference because I know their role is critical for ground forces.”