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Missouri Guard becomes first in nation to test vehicle maintenance system
Missouri Guard becomes first in nation to test vehicle maintenance system

Sgt. 1st Class Darwin Johnson enters data on the Maintenance Support Device-Version 2 while, from left, Spc. Chris Valentine, Staff Sgt. Calvin Burkhardt, Sgt. Gary Lewis. Sgt. 1st Class Alan Gard and Sgt. Jeremy Kiso, watch during a class on the system.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (July 31, 2009) — Sgt. 1st Class Darwin Johnson, of Stanberry, is a Missouri National Guardsman who is among the first in the nation to work with a new maintenance diagnostic system for military vehicles.

“We’re kind of the guinea pigs,” said Johnson, of the 35th Special Troops Battalion in St. Joseph. “We’ve got to find any flaws and report them.”

Johnson was one of 32 soldiers from across the state who recently trained with the Maintenance Support Device-Version 2 for two days at the Combined Surface Maintenance Shops in Jefferson City.

“I think it will be pretty valuable — a good tool,” Johnson said.

This device is a wireless computer system that enables maintainers to diagnose faults electronically in military vehicles, such as Humvees, light medium tactical vehicles and heavy expanded mobility tactical trucks. The device should save the Guard money.

“The cost to replace a vehicle transmission or engine can run as high as $100,000 in some military trucks,” said Capt. Jamie Melchert, supervisory surface maintenance specialist for the Missouri Guard. “With the ability to take a look inside of our equipment with a maintenance support device, it is essentially like taking a CAT scan of a patient to find out what the problem is before surgery.”

It also should save soldiers who perform vehicle maintenance time and keep their unit’s vehicles more battle-ready.

“It would be like if you are down at the mini-lube and your car has a problem — if they can’t fix it, they take it to the dealer,” said Robin Smith, new equipment field trainer for Analytical Services, Inc., the company that conducted the training. “In this case, soldiers, who are mechanics at a company level, have the equipment to diagnose and fix a problem at a low level, without sending it up to higher maintenance. That takes time — the vehicle is gone for more days and you can’t use it. It’s more efficient.”

The battery-powered computer system functions much like a basic laptop, complete with a 14.1-inch sunlight readable screen, full-size keyboard, 80-gigabyte hard drive and a floppy disc drive.

“One of the neat things about it is it’s like a Toughbook computer,” Smith said. “It’s a rugged computer and can be used with many different things. The application here is with vehicles doing diagnostic work.”

Because it is wireless, the computer can not only be used in the shop, but in the field as well, where it can operate at temperatures up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit in rainy, sandy or dusty conditions.

Along with troop and supply movement vehicles, the device also can be used by aviation and artillery vehicles.

Smith said the device works much like what a civilian mechanic would hook up to a standard automobile to determine what was wrong with its electronic, fuel or exhaust system, just to give a few examples.

“All the information coming from the electronic control module can be displayed on the computer,” Smith said. “You can see your trouble codes, just like on a civilian car. It gives you a code if something is wrong and it tells you what to fix.

“It works on the principle of an upside-down pyramid. You have a lot of unknowns and it starts asking you yes-or-no questions, like, ‘Does it start?’ or, ‘Does it have blue smoke?’ It starts to narrow it down and as it narrows it down, at a certain point it will say, ‘Test this.’ Then the test software will just pop up and run the test.”

Staff Sgt. Calvin Burkhardt, of the 548th Transportation Company in Trenton, said working with the computer will be a change for him because he’s mostly relied on training manuals and his experience in the past.

“It’s going to help us diagnose the stuff that we can’t find through regular troubleshooting,” said Burkhardt, of Waverly. “This wireless system will probably make it a lot quicker to diagnose the problem.”

And that time is valuable to Burkhardt.

“You’ve only got so much time to do a service or find out what’s wrong with it,” he said. “That will save you man-hours. It makes it a lot easier.”

Johnson agreed.

“It should let you troubleshoot vehicles more quickly,” Johnson said. “You are going to be looking at a screen and it will say, ‘This is the problem.’ This is going to tell you more of a range of measurements, versus just going off of experience.”

The device should allow less-experienced Guard mechanics to diagnose problems as effectively as those who are more experienced.

“Since I don’t have as much experience, the steps are a little easier to go through,” said Spc. Chris Valentine of the 1140th Forward Support Company of Cape Girardeau. “A younger person like me has no problems going through the steps because it shows a picture and it’s pretty hard to mess up. It really does walk you through the process.”

Valentine said the device also should help him become a better mechanic in less time.

“I believe it will make it go a little smoother,” he said.

Version 1 of the system has been used by the Guard in the past, but it required the computer to be tethered to power cables and other wires. The wireless second version, soldiers say, is a big improvement.

“It’s more versatile. You can be on either side of the truck and reading the computer without having cables run all over like a spider web,” Johnson said.

“Now you don’t have to figure out what wire goes where,” Burkhardt said. “You don’t have to trip and fall over wires and wonder if you’ve got them hooked up to the right place. It saves time, too.”

Valentine added that before, he couldn’t climb in and out of the vehicle because of the cables.

“With the old wiring, you were restricted,” he said. “You were always unplugging stuff to move around. It’s a lot better looking, too.”

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