After a months-long study that began in May, the Army will drastically slash maintenance requirements for approximately 1 million of its wheeled vehicles and rifles by eliminating most time-based service intervals that require soldiers to perform tasks like oil changes based on the calendar rather than how much they use their equipment.
Service leaders, including Army Chief of Staff Gen. Randy George, heralded the change and said that reducing calendar-based maintenance can save around 632 man-years of effort — or around 230,000 soldier work days — annually. That reduction in labor will translate to better work-life balance, leaders hope. An order from Army headquarters announcing the changes is “in the final stages” and will arrive shortly, officials said.
And to hear the Army’s senior-most maintenance officials tell it, one might wonder what took the service so long to implement the “common sense” moves. Army Times spoke with the service’s top maintenance policy official, as well as four senior warrant officers from the study group.
The warrant officers explained that the current regimen prescribes time-based service for most vehicles in the Army’s fleet long before they near usage-based criteria (such as mileage intervals) for doing the maintenance. In an Oct. 9 press conference, George linked the idea to ongoing efforts to help soldiers spend more time with their families and have more predictability in their lives.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Wilton Toups, who is the top maintenance warrant officer for Army Reserve Command, emphasized that “the rest of the civilian world” from over-the-road trucking to heavy equipment operators collectively observes usage-based service intervals.
None of the officials, some of whom have been in service for nearly 40 years, were certain why the time-based service intervals existed in the first place. Chief Warrant Officer 5 Rob Lakes, the senior ordnance warrant officer for I Corps, said the time-based standards may have come about due to inconsistent maintenance compliance decades ago.
“The [time-based] standards have been in place for decades...and where industry evolved [and] took into account changes in filter technology, we didn’t keep pace,” explained Rick Marsh, the chief maintenance policy official in the Army headquarters’ logistics directorate. “We were doing the same old thing — not sure why.”
The study group launched in May at George’s direction following suggestions from the field, Marsh said. The wheeled vehicle platforms evaluated were the Humvee, the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles, the Palletized Load System, and the Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck. The study group also recommended that M4 and M16 rifles receive semi-annual rather than quarterly service.
The Army will evaluate whether other weapons or vehicles could do without or with reduced time-based service intervals, officials added. Soldiers will still regularly conduct preventive maintenance checks and services (commonly known as PMCS) even in light of the changes.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Norman May, the 1st Infantry Division’s top maintenance tech, also pointed toward recent progress in other areas meant to better automate motor pool processes like work orders and vehicle dispatches that are often hand-written and then manually entered into logistics systems.
The service’s leaders, including George, hope that the changes will allow service members to spend less time doing unnecessary services on vehicles that can conflict with real-world — or real-life — requirements.
A former infantry company commander, who requested anonymity to candidly discuss the impacts of the policy changes, explained that before shipping his unit’s vehicles overseas for a deployment, his soldiers had to complete their time-based maintenance for the eight-week voyage before loading them onto trains for shipment.
“We had to pull forward all the services that would come ‘due’ during that 7-8 week period based on time intervals and try to cram as many services we could prior to deploying so we wouldn’t look bad in the system,” the former commander said. “That’s time [my] soldiers could be spending with family.”
Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.