There’s the old saying about the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way. One place where that is very true is maintenance.
How old is your car? New? Five years old? Maybe 10? Most folks buy a new car every few years. The Army expects to get about 25 years out of a truck. And believe me, they use and abuse them in ways you never would treat your car. Most trucks in the Army don’t get a lot of highway miles, if you know what I mean. So how can they run them hard and still expect to have them last a quarter century? Maintenance. Lots and lots of maintenance.
The Army uses a system of tiered maintenance, from the operator level to the depot level to keep its vehicle fleet performing. Since before WWII, the Army has used four levels of maintenance over and above what the operator is expected to perform:
- Unit/organizational level: all maintenance is repair and return to user.
- Direct support (DS): maintenance is mostly repair and return to user; some is repair and return to supply.
- General support (GS): maintenance is mostly repair and return to supply; some is repair and return to user.
- Depot: maintenance is repair and return to supply.
The most common part of this program is PMCS, or Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services. These are the basic tasks that a driver performs daily or weekly on his truck- things like checking the tires, checking the oil level and looking for leaks, making sure the turn signals work. Every time an Army vehicle is used, there are checks for before, during and after operation. Simple repairs, like changing a tire, are usually operator level maintenance as well. Mostly, this is the kind of stuff you should be doing on your own car. When we get into the maintenance above that, we get into the four levels mentioned above. So let’s take a look how this might work.
Suppose you are a “duece and a half” driver. Your truck is old and tired and broken down. You fix the flat tire. No big deal (actually, changing the flat on a duece was a major pain). The leaky hose fitting from the radiator to the engine block gets fixed by your unit mechanics. Each battalion has a maintenance section in its headquarters company. That’s the unit/organizational level maintenance.
Also, our driver discovers he has a cracked axle on the truck. That would be a DS level repair. The truck would be towed to the forward support battalion for repair. Then, we find that the truck transmission is going out as well. Of to the GS level, the division main support battalion. Instead of fixing the truck and sending it back to our driver, they hold onto the truck and issue him a spare from the war stocks. When the busted truck is eventually fixed, it will go into war stocks to be issued to the next guy who’s truck is in poor shape.
After a few years of hard driving, our truck is pretty beat up. Eventually, it needs a serious overhaul. Our driver turns the truck in, and has a replacement issued to him. The old truck is shipped to a depot here in the states to be rebuilt from the frame up. Any modifications, such as newer model engines and transmissions are added at this time. What comes out the other end is essentially a new truck, ready for issue to a troop unit.
Essentially, this works with every piece of equipment the Army uses. Everything from rifles and gas masks to electronic equipment like the radars for the Patriot missile system, to the burner units used in a field kitchen.
The Army is currently trying to flatten the system into two levels by combining the unit/DS levels and the GS/depot levels. How successful this will be remains to be seen.