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Keeps them flying.

A UNIQUE National Guard maintenance task force in Kuwait keeps Army helicopters flying in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Guard has four Aviation Classification Repair Activity Depots in the United States. Based in California, Connecticut, Mississippi and Missouri, each AVCRAD serves a region of the country. Task Force AVCRAD includes personnel from all of them, as well as other individuals.

Each depot maintains such helicopters as AH-64 Apaches, UH-60 Black Hawks, CH-47 Chinooks and OH-58 Kiowas.

"All the AVCRADs have been deployed, so they came up with TF-AVCRAD," said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Allen, the noncommissioned officer in charge of maintenance for the task force.

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A Composite Unit

TF-AVCRAD is composed entirely of National Guard members and civilian contractors. Its approximately 220 members are drawn from the regional AVCRADs and from Maryland's Aviation Depot Maintenance Roundout Unit, the administrative headquarters for the AVCRADs. Members also come from Kentucky's Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Unit, supplemented by Soldiers from the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va.

The formation of the task force meant no specific AVCRAD had to be deployed, and it gave AVCRAD members four years at home between deployments.

"The mission is to perform maintenance on aircraft components to make sure that the rotary-wing fleet is up and ready to fly," said Lt. Col. Clifford Hopkins, a Maryland Guard member and the task force's executive officer. "Being able to perform this mission with Guard Soldiers saves a lot of time, because we're forward-deployed. Instead of aircraft components having to go all the way back to the States, we can repair them right here and get them back to the warfighters in a timely manner."

A Variety of Skills

TF-AVCRAD maintains Army Guard, Regular Army and Army Reserve aircraft theater-wide. The team services avionics, rotors and blades, engines, props and searchlights, and stocks replacement parts. A machine shop makes parts and tools. The AVCRAD has equipment that allows rebuilt engines to be tested.

"We can simulate that engine running at full power on a flying aircraft, so that when we're finished with it we can put it back in the inventory system, guaranteed to run reliably," said Staff Sgt. Joseph Gray, assistant shop supervisor.

Some of the AVCRAD's members are forward deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq to provide even faster service.

"We work for every aviation unit in Iraq and Afghanistan," Staff Sgt. Gray said.

Some of the work is routine maintenance. Much is necessary because of sand and battle damage.

Wind-blown sand is irritating for people, but it can be an extreme hazard to helicopters. Parts arrive at the AVCRAD with a glass coating--sand transformed by engine heat. Soldiers use an ultrasonic cleaner to loosen the debris. They also must clean sand from electrical parts.

Supporting Heroes

Like many reserve-component members who are not on the frontlines but who still hold essential jobs, TF-AVCRAD members realize that, frustrating as it may be to be one step removed from the war, they are vital to it.

"I'm not the hero," said Sgt. Dennis Cantrell, deployed from the Kentucky National Guard. "I'm the little geek who makes sure the hero's helicopter picks him up."

Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill is assigned to the National Guard Bureau Public Affairs Office,
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Title Annotation:ARMY NATIONAL GUARD; Aviation Classification Repair Activity Depots
Author:Greenhill, Jim
Publication:Soldiers Magazine
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Nov 1, 2007
Words:536
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