Approximately 250 new Soldiers pass through the 128th Aviation Training Brigades aircraft electrician ‘15F’ military occupational specialty course each year, providing the Army a continuous supply of Soldiers to keep its helicopters airborne and operational.
Maintaining a steady supply of 15Fs is an important task with over 5,000 helicopters, sometimes referred to as “birds”, in service and all dependent on functioning electrical components.
“Without this, Army aviation ceases to exist,” says Sgt. 1st Class Hezekiah Jenkins, Charlie Company, 1-210th Aviation Regiment, 1st Battalion, 128th Aviation Brigade, 15F instructor. “This is where they’re born, this is where they’re raised, and hopefully where they come back to reciprocate all that knowledge they’ve taken in and experienced.”
The Army has also been modifying the delivery of the education to students. Recent years have seen the transition to more hands-on education as well as less instructor dictated.
“They’ll look up at you and give you that subtle cue, or they’ll be so ingrained in the computer trying to find something and they don’t want to disappoint,” said Jenkins. “You can almost tell right away if someone is struggling and if they’re quiet and reserved. Seeing that in their face and being able to walk over to and ask, ‘hey, have you figured it out?’, or ‘Are you struggling with something or what do you need help with?’”, Jenkins added.
The course spans across 16 weeks and is their first professional experience coming out of basic training. A total of eight students are assigned to a class, which helps to allow for more one-on-one education between student and instructor.
“When I first came here I thought I would struggle a little bit, but the instructors have been very patient and professional with me,” said Pvt. Cody Helm, a 15F student. “We’re always honest with our instructor and if we’re uncomfortable with something, we’ll let him know and he’ll always go back and go over it again.”
The course begins with introductory principles and basic electrical understanding, while introducing Soldiers to electrical instruments and schematics, along with manuals and reference materials.
“What we look for and what we try to encourage isn’t so much for them to memorize all of the information per se, but we want them to be able to find where information comes from and memorize how to find the information,” said Jenkins.
The students then transition to hands-on training where they primarily work on simulators for the Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters and Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. This type of training brings together the science they learned, the tools they’ll use, and place them in their future environments.
“Hands-on training is big because confidence is really important to learning how things work, and then once we learn, it helps to know for when we need to trouble-shoot, can you take it apart, can you fix it,” said Helm. “We ask a lot of questions now, but I’m also seeing us at a point where we’re able to do a lot on our own.”
Black Hawk helicopters can transport an 11-person fully equipped infantry squad, and Chinook helicopters have a 36-troop capacity.
“We are frequently reminded that these aircraft are going to be carrying Soldiers and to ensure we keep these birds in the air for continued support for our troops, saving lives, and completing missions,” said Pfc. José Zepeda. “Their safety is very dependent on our work.”
Zepeda also added that instructors pass on to them that some aircraft they’ll work on now and in the future will have new systems that they will be the first aircraft electricians to work on and be responsible for.
“It genuinely gives me a sense of growing heritage to know I’m next in line to keep these birds up in the air,” said Zepeda.
“This is a great opportunity for anyone that’s looking to progress to the next level because it does really show what you have to give and provide to the next generation of Army aviation,” said Jenkins. “When you come here you are training the future of Army aviation.”