FORT LEE, Va. (Feb. 20, 2014) -- Eleven Ordnance Warrant Officer Basic Course students at Fort Lee have completed a pilot training program that is being developed for permanent implementation, which would save the Army many millions of dollars in the not-too-distant future.

The newly appointed Ordnance warrant officers – all members of 915A WOBC Class 14-02 – participated in an off-post partnership program with a Caterpillar dealer in Mechanicsville, a community approximately 35 miles north of Fort Lee. This new instructional effort is part of a larger Training and Doctrine Command, Combined Arms Support Command and Ordnance School initiative to redesign warrant officer training and reinvigorate maintenance core competencies.

As the Army continues to plan for future contingency operations, its leaders share a common goal of reducing reliance on field service representatives and contracted logistical support performing field-level maintenance. That desire is motivating new initiatives to broaden the training of Army sustainers.

The warrant officer training redesign will mean longer course lengths and additional technical certifications, credentialing and industry training requirements – all at an increased cost, according to Chief Warrant Officer 5 Terry Hetrick, Ordnance Regimental Chief Warrant Officer – but it is projected to result in far more significant cost-savings to the overall Army in the long run.

While developing the program, the Ordnance School partnered with Carter Machinery to conduct the training. It is a well-established Caterpillar dealership that provides sales, maintenance and product support to the entire state of Virginia.

Hetrick, a major player in the training redesign, discussed the changes in a recent Ordnance Warrant Officer newsletter. “CASCOM training developers, in conjunction with Army Logistics University instructors, have been rewriting lesson plans and programs of instruction for the basic and advanced courses in all the Ordnance Warrant Officer military occupational specialties,” he wrote. “The request for additional training time is being staffed at TRADOC along with the cost benefit analysis required by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army – Cost and Economics to fund those changes.”

“We have garnered support from the Department of the Army G-4 Maintenance Directorate to leverage our strategy to increase technical competency and decrease field service representatives,” he noted. “We are very close to (fully implementing this training program) starting in the 4th quarter of fiscal 2014 through fiscal 2016 to expand and integrate the knowledge base of all students of the Warrant Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, active and reserve.”

Meanwhile, the pilot training program will continue. Two additional 915A WOBC classes will receive two weeks of training at the Caterpillar facility this fiscal year. The first week is a refresher of electrical fundamentals such as Ohm’s Law, circuits, sensors and digital multimeter usage. It will also include hands-on troubleshooting, electrical connector maintenance and Caterpillar wiring schematics. The students will take a test after each module to check their understanding of the material.

During the second week, students use the technical skills learned in the first week. That training will consist of engine performance and diagnostics such as operation, common rail and hydraulically-actuated, electronically controlled unit injector fuel systems, usage of diagnostic software, understanding fuel quality, and hands-on troubleshooting of various Caterpillar engines.

“The material covered in the course is the same training that Caterpillar technicians receive,” said Ali Rodriguez, a Carter Machinery instructor. “Most of the fundamentals and troubleshooting skills can be applied to any vehicle or system,” he noted.

Most tactical wheeled vehicles in the Army are powered by Caterpillar engines including the Stryker, the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles, Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck A4 models, Palletized Load System A1 models, several versions of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, and the Heavy Equipment Transporter A1 model. Additionally, the Department of Defense employs several models of construction, marine, and power generation equipment that are manufactured by Caterpillar.

Feedback received on the pilot training course was overwhelmingly positive.

“This is some of the best technical training I have received in the past nine years of military service,” said Warrant Officer Ryan Sweesy.

Warrant Officer Michael Cook added, “Understanding the basic fundamentals enhances our ability to make better maintenance decisions when troubleshooting equipment.”

According to other members of the WOBC class, the Caterpillar instructors’ years of experience passed onto the new warrant officers was extremely beneficial and was a highlight of the overall course. The two Caterpillar instructors, Ali Rodriguez and Mike Johnson, possess nearly four decades of experience and knowledge maintaining Caterpillar equipment, and they are both military veterans. Rodriguez served in the Army as a vehicle mechanic and Johnson served as a Navy Seabee.

(Special thanks to the Ordnance School, Ordnance Personnel Development Office, Caterpillar Defense and Federal Products, and Carter Machinery for contributing to this article.)