Soldiers who have deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation New Dawn, have the shared experience of being issued ballistic plates for their body armor that have been turned in by other soldiers after their combat tours. Part of ensuring plates are combat ready involves a detailed inspection process to identify defective plates, and remove them from circulation. Until recently, the process of ensuring plates being issued were inspected within a specific time frame meant the 21st Theater Sustainment Command spent time and money sending plates to Sierra, Calif., for inspection, before being shipped back to Europe for deploying soldiers. The current policy only allows for plates to be issued to deploying soldiers if they have been inspected within the previous nine months.
"What we had that needed to be scanned would be shipped back to the States," said Carla Stovall, a logistics management specialist with the 21st TSC's Support Operations and a native of Copperas Cove, Texas. "Anytime there was a deploying unit we would send our requirements back with the amounts that we would need and they would ship over inspected plates."
Now, the 21st TSC has acquired an Armor Inspection System, or AIS, which is a system that uses X-rays to scan plates in order to identify deficiencies within them. Having the new system now allows for a mobile team of Non- Destructive Test Equipment (NDTE) personnel to be flown in to inspect and certify the plates used throughout U.S. Army Europe.
"This is actually the first fixed site with an AIS that we have where we can actually jump the mobile team right into the inspection process," said Bruce Cardell, the NDTE team lead and a native of Lakewood, N.J. "The intent is to take a mobile team, drop them into a fixed site, process all of the plates they have, and place the plates back on the same cycle and same inspection window, while at the same time taking the bad plates out of service. Now the only plates that are being sent back to the states are the unserviceable plates, which will go back into circulation once they are repaired.” Or be destroyed if they cannot be repaired.
The cost saving advantage of having a fixed AIS in Kaiserslautern is substantial, said Cardell. "If you look at the big picture, it's significant; the logistical cost, the transportation and the resources it requires to get things from point a to point b is enormous," he explained.
In the past, it was common to have a large number of plates in the warehouse that were considered not issuable because of the length of time that had passed since their last inspection. "Having available stock makes a big difference when you have deployers," said Stovall. "We need to have the right plates for the soldier when they're ready to deploy so they have that peace of mind that they're deploying with the best."
Having the NDTE inspection team on site "should be a recurring thing," said Stovall. "All of the plates that are considered issuable will all expire at the same time so we would want to have that taken care of before the nine months are up."
"We look at the operation as being a lifeline and gives the soldiers and commanders the reassurance that they have the best equipment in theater," said Cardell. "It gives them that reassurance that they have the best type of plate protecting them in the field."
Once complete, the plates which pass inspection will be sent back to the various central issuing facilities throughout Europe, and will be ready to protect Soldiers deploying all throughout the world.