Pvt. Feng Ni works on replacing the water pump on a Stryker during his Stryker Systems Maintainer Course. In the Stryker bay, there are four stand-alone Stryker engines that students work on as part of their training. (Photo by Amy Perry, Fort Lee Public Affairs)

FORT LEE, Va. (Feb. 16, 2012) -- Twenty Soldiers are making history here today by being the first to graduate from the brand new Stryker Systems Maintainer military occupational specialty.

The Stryker - relatively new to the Army - is an eight-wheeled armored fighting vehicle. The new MOS - 91 Sierra - will allow the Army to track the Soldiers who have received training on the Stryker and send them to the Army's Stryker Brigade Combat Teams, said Dennis Walker, Ordnance School Stryker Systems Division Chief.

In the past, Soldiers who were trained on the Stryker received an additional skill identifier showing their proficiency on the vehicle, he said. The problem was that it was complicated for the Army to track these Soldiers only by ASI, as the Army tracks Soldiers by their MOS. The Army decided to make it an MOS so it could have more control over the Soldiers who had the special training.

Before the 91S MOS was created, Soldiers were selected from the 91 Bravo Basic Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic Course to receive an additional four weeks of training to be awarded the ASI of R4 (Stryker Maintainer). This additional training consisted only of the automotive portion of the M11 series Stryker vehicle. Because of the Army's tracking system, Soldiers who had received the ASI of R4 weren't always placed in a SBCT.

"Having Soldiers identified by the 91S MOS allows the Army to properly track these Soldiers and ensure that the Stryker brigades are getting their maintainers, saving the Army time and valuable resources," Walker said. "Because of this, Human Resources Command can now track these Soldiers upon graduation as a Stryker Systems Maintainer who can go to only one of six duty assignments."

Creating this new MOS will not only help the units have maintainers trained in the various aspects of the Stryker, but it also will allow maintenance to be performed more efficiently in garrison and in combat environments. Previously, these vehicles were maintained by three different MOSs - 91 Bravos with an ASI of R4, 91 Kilo with an ASI of R4 (armament systems mechanic), and the 91 Charlie (air conditioning/refrigeration mechanic) - which caused extended downtime for repairs.

"Instead of requiring three different mechanics - especially 91C and 91K, which are low-density MOSs - to repair the Stryker, you'll need only one," said Walker. "Since there aren't many air conditioning and armament mechanics, it was challenging to get repairs completed in a timely manner."

By consolidating the three MOSs, one maintainer can repair a piece of equipment in a more expedient manner.

"Having dedicated Stryker systems maintainers, eliminate most of the on-the-job training requirements for the different systems," said Sgt. 1st First Class Vito Green, Ordnance School Stryker Systems Chief Instructor.

With the operational tempo and deployment cycles, units were finding it difficult to train Soldiers on the Stryker systems, said Green. This new MOS takes the critical tasks lists from three different MOSs to prepare these Soldiers for all aspects of the Stryker systems.

Being part of the group building a brand new MOS from the ground up isn't lost on Walker or Green, who said they are excited to be part of this new career field.

"It's unique. Basically, everything we have done, we had to start new. We have a new facility, new equipment, new instructors and a new course," said Walker. "We're building this course. There's going to be changes along the way, but we're building the future of the Army with these skilled maintainers."

Pvt. Jimmy Bunch, who joined the Army in 2011, is one of those students graduating today. He said they made history by being the first class, but most of the students didn't even realize it was brand new until they arrived for training.

"When I heard it was a brand-new course, I felt like I wasn't going to learn anything at all," said Bunch. "The instructors told us they would be learning the course at the same time and that we would play an important role by providing feedback after each lesson to help improve the course for future students.

"The instructors knew the subject matter, but it was the first time they taught the course," he continued. "We witnessed the changes from our class down to the next five classes going through training."

Although Bunch felt like he wouldn't learn much, he said the class prepared him for his next unit.

"Now, I feel like I can identify issues and perform maintenance on the Stryker," he said.

Many of the students graduating said their favorite part of the class was learning the armament systems, including Pvt. Emmanuel Maestas, who also joined the Army in 2011. While Maestas originally wanted to be a Chinook mechanic, that MOS fell through, and he chose 91S because "I wanted to turn a wrench," he said.

"Learning about all the variants of the Stryker - especially the armament system - was just amazing," he said.

The Stryker has 10 variants and the course here has seven for student training. The instructors use those variants to provide more hands-on training than ever before, said Walker.

"We're not training the way the Army has trained in the past," he said. "We do more skill-based training now, where Soldiers are taught system repairs, i.e., mechanical, electrical and hydraulics in order to repair any system, diagnose support and use one or more of these skills. There's less classroom and more hands-on training. Right now, the students receive about 75 percent hands-on actually working on the equipment and 25 percent classroom training."

The Stryker Systems Maintainer AIT lasts for 17 weeks, and more than 250 students are expected to graduate this year.