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BDRF keeps strykers rolling
Kyle Thomas, BDRF welder, welds the inside of a battle damaged Stryker. Welders are required to have 12 certifications, ensuring they are prepared to handle the extensive work required in the rebuilding process.
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BDRF keeps Strykers rolling into battlefield

Posted 10/26/2010   Updated 10/26/2010 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Tim Jenkins
379th Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs

10/26/2010 - SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Since put into service in 2002, the 19-ton Stryker has enabled Army Stryker Brigade Combat Teams to maneuver in close and urban terrain while providing protection in open territory. But with its use in Iraq and Afghanistan comes a need to provide assistance when the vehicles are damaged in combat.

The men and women of the General Dynamics Land Systems Battle Damage Repair Facility, located at Camp As Sayliyah in Southwest Asia, bring expertise and dedication in getting the Department of Defense's fleet of Strykers from battle damaged to battle ready.

Established in 2005, the BDRF is one of two facilities in the world responsible for repairing battle-damaged Strykers, and the only facility in the Middle East. To date, the BDRF has successfully returned more than 230 Strykers to the battlefield.

"When (the BDRF) initially came to be, they really didn't expect battle damage to be as significant as it was," said Rick Hunt, BDRF site manager. "Then, they started deploying more Strykers, they started becoming more popular -- everyone wanted them and that naturally increased the battle damage rate."

The mission of the BDRF is simple -- if a vehicle is 50 percent damaged or less, they can repair it. Anything over 50 percent and it's probably not cost effective. According to Mr. Hunt, it costs 25 to 50 percent less to repair a Stryker rather than purchase a brand new one.

"Anything over 50 percent damage and it may be more feasible to recycle the vehicle and reuse the parts where possible," he said. "The Army may choose to get a new Stryker because the declined vehicle may be compromised due to weakened armor or other irreparable damage."

The facility is equipped to repair eight of the 10 variants of Strykers, repairing six trucks a month, every month, typically taking 60 days from arrival to the facility until it is ready to be returned to the fight. The process begins when a vehicle is battle damaged in the field.

"Essentially, when we get word of a Stryker getting hit, we start initial paperwork and start ordering parts as appropriate to get some parts on the way based on the variant of the vehicle," said Mr. Hunt.

A unit makes notifications that a Stryker has been damaged and needs repair, at which point it goes to a forward repair area. An analysis is done on the vehicle to determine if it can be repaired. Once it's determined repairable, the vehicle is swept for ammunition and other materials, and is shipped to the BDRF's receiving yard.

Once it arrives, the teardown team does an initial assessment of the vehicle, and conducts an additional sweep for ammunition or biological material. According to Mr. Hunt, the order of repair is based on the order that the vehicles are needed on the battlefield.

"Vehicles are needed specifically due to the variant, so the variants needed most are the ones we try to put out first," he said.

The technicians also peel off all the armor and floorboards while identifying any additional damage that wasn't previously discovered.

"The teardown guys have the dirtiest job in the shop, because they see the trucks basically right off the battlefield," said Adam Fosbre, BDRF weld supervisor.

Components such as suspension, wheel drives, modular armor and interior components are taken out near the areas needing repair, and all reusable components are cleaned and inspected for future use. This entire process allows the team to prepare the vehicle for its battle damage repair, and plan out the repair timeline.

"The job itself is never boring," said Mr. Fosbre. "Every truck is different. They never have the same damage, so you have to do some problem solving to find different ways to get everything back together."

Once teardown is complete, the vehicle is transferred to the welding shop, which, according to Mr. Hunt, is the most intensive part of the process due to the specialization needed for those types of repairs. Welders cut out the battle damaged areas, look for any late discoveries and make the necessary repairs.

"Because the hull of the vehicle is modular, if the front is damaged, you can cut off the front and re-use the back," said Mr. Fosbre. "With a tank, the hull is all one piece, so if it gets hit like that, the whole vehicle is destroyed. That's why this vehicle is such a good thing for the Army, because it can be repaired or recycled."

The Stryker's design makes repairing battle damage a viable, cost-saving option, but also puts much of the responsibility on the welders to make repairs, while retaining the vehicle's structural integrity. That responsibility is something the welders don't take lightly, especially when all the welding is done by hand.

"In the factory, the welding is pretty much done by computers," said Jason Hill, a senior welder for more than three years at the BDRF. "Here, all the welding is done completely by hand, from top to bottom. It takes a lot of skill and a lot of pride. If you're not 100 percent in, then you might as well pack up and go home."

Before being hired by GDLS, welders are screened and tested on a variety of techniques. They each have 12 welding certifications, all in an effort to ensure perfect, production-quality welds every time.

"(The welders) contort themselves into positions like pretzels," he said. "They will sometimes lie there 12 hours or more getting that one little spot. But they get perfection -- that weld is perfect. It's to industry standard and beyond. We challenge anyone that comes through here to find on one of these vehicles, once it goes from one end of the building to the other, to find where it was battle damaged. They do it perfectly."

"We do zero deficiencies on any of the welding, and that's very important," said Mr. Fosbre. "That's what holds the whole truck together. Because if there are any flaws or crack in the weld, that could be the weak part that opens the whole vehicle and causes damage."

Mr. Hill added perfection is the only option, when structural integrity equals the safety of those using the Strykers on the battlefield.

"We're all very aware of where they're going," said Mr. Hill. "Knowing our brothers and sisters are riding in them and keeping them safe means a lot."

In the midst of teardown and welding, material control technicians are doing everything they can to get the Stryker parts needed from every location possible.

"They really have an invisible job, which is something I'd really never want to do," said Mr. Hill. "By the time a vehicle is in production, they have 90 percent of the parts needed to get the vehicles repaired. Those guys really work miracles."

In addition to ordering and acquiring parts for production and welding teams, the section also manages the shipping and tracking of all parts, repair and overhaul of parts, and the tracking of scrap parts which can no longer be used. All unserviceable parts, no matter how small, are sorted, put into a database, labeled and shipped to a central facility for destruction.

"Ultimately, we are working to not only get the vehicles out, but constantly looking for ways to make processes work more efficiently," said Jeff Bierl, BDRF material control supervisor. "Our goal is to make sure we have the parts, both for production and the weld shop, so they can build on time and ultimately get vehicles back on the battlefield to the warfighter."

After welding is complete, the vehicles are rolled into pre-production, where the Stryker is re-married to the suspension and engine bay preparatory work is completed. Next, a production team is assigned, based on the timing of the vehicles coming out of the weld shop.

"Once the production crew gets the vehicle, they go from top to bottom, front to back, inside and out, and put every vehicle out there back together, per specification, function testing every step of the way," said Carlton Williams, BDRF production supervisor.

Function checks are performed by quality assurance inspectors, who follow the build every step of the way during the long build-up process taking the Stryker from an empty shell, to a fully-functioning machine. Meanwhile, the vehicle's remote weapons system is overhauled, a newly-established engine production facility rebuilds the engines, and the wheel and tire shop inspect Stryker wheels to determine if they are serviceable.

"Some might think, 'six vehicles a month, that's not much of a challenge,' but when you look at where it goes from when a vehicles first gets here, to when it leaves, that's a lot of work to get it back to the warfighter," said Mr. Williams. "It's a long road to travel."

That long road ends on the test track, where the Strykers are put through driving tests to ensure everything is being done right and the engine is holding up. Once fully-inspected and approved by quality control, the vehicles are set aside until the end of the month. The last week of every month, a Defense Contract Management Agency inspector does an extremely thorough inspection before accepting the vehicle back into the inventory.

"We've never missed a quota," said Mr. Hunt. "We have the crews stay with their vehicles and if the DCMA finds something, even though it's going to count against us, its fixed right there in his presence. We just want it fixed. We know we're sending quality, survivable vehicles out onto the battlefield and we know we're doing it right."

After DCMA accepts the vehicle, it is either shipped to whatever unit needs it in the field, or placed in the Return to Fight fleet. RtF vehicles are maintained at the BDRF until requested by a unit, when they are shipped out.

Mr. Hunt said the long process of putting damaged Strykers back into the field runs smoothly, mostly due to the extension knowledge and dedicated of the crew. Many crew members, although originally signing one-year contracts, extend time and time again, some staying five years.

"The institutional knowledge here is phenomenal because I get so many contract extensions," he said. "I get to keep the same talent. I literally have perfection working out there because they know what to do and when to do it. Perfection is just the starting point for these guys."

Although the process is time intensive and detail oriented, the crews never forget the main reason why they're there, and why doing their absolute best is the only option in providing a valuable, life-saving tool to the fight.

"Most of my guys and ladies are former military," said Mr. Hunt. "Many of us have been there and done that. We know what it's like, so when we put what we do into that vehicle, we do it for the right reasons. And the men and women who weren't in the military serve just as well as anyone else and they do so selflessly, dedicating their time and their bodies to an extremely difficult, often thankless job."

Mr. Hunt added they're not just building vehicles - they're putting something out there to protect people.

"We're not just doing this for ourselves or for the company," he said. "We're doing this to keep people safe. We are proud of what we and other General Dynamics sites in theatre are doing for our Soldiers and our country."

10/26/2010 9:45:38 PM ET
good information on the job that BDRF does up to now back home we did not know what our son in law actually did. Kyle is very proud of the job he does and now we can see why. Keep up the good work and see you soon Kyle.
john, usa-washington state
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