By Army Sgt. Andy Mehler
Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 2, 2009 - In the modern Army, soldiers often find themselves working alongside civilian contractors doing almost the same exact job. Supply platoon soldiers of "A" Company, 628th Aviation Support Battalion, 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, run supply operations here along with civilian employees of the Black Hawk Management Corp., based in Killeen, Texas.
"We receive, store, distribute and turn in Class 9 aviation parts," said Army Sgt. Matthew Bircher, of Etters, Pa., the senior enlisted in charge of his platoon's mission. "We distribute parts throughout the entire brigade."
The operation also supplies all of Iraq and Afghanistan with parts that other supply warehouses may not have readily available, Bircher added. The warehouse here carries 3,467 authorized items in its inventory, with a cash value of $56 million.
The supply platoon also orders and distributes food items that are used to stock the "Grab & Go" trailers, where soldiers can get sandwiches, chips, cold drinks and other assorted food items for a fast meal on the run.
As many as 15 civilian contractors have worked with Bircher and his team.
"The civilians work for me and provide assistance in parts distribution and other warehouse operations," Bircher said. "We all work integrated together." The civilians are trained to use the same online Army supply program Bircher uses to order and track the delivery status of parts requested by deployed units.
"I think we have a great rapport with the civilians," said Sgt. Wendell White, a resident of Annville, Pa., and the first-shift supervisor and operations manager at the supply support activity here. "I make sure all the cylinders are turning." Civilian contractors work in every section of the supply support activity here and play a major role, he added.
Aside from their supply activities, the platoon's soldiers escort incoming delivery drivers and deliver pallets of bottled water to the airfield, fuel point and other areas of the base. They've also made an important security improvement to the grounds by placing barriers to create a one-way-in and one-way-out traffic pattern, Bircher said.
The desert climate here has posed some environmental challenges for the supply platoon, Bircher said.
"Heavy winds bring dirt and dust into our storage area," he explained. The large tents used for storage areas are open at both ends, which can cause dust problems for the soldiers' computers and cover the parts shelves in dirt.
But the experience has taught everyone in the platoon something, White said.
"We have a lot of young soldiers that grew a lot here," he said. "It's made them more responsible."
(Army Sgt. Andy Mehler serves with the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade.)