LANSING, Mich. –
The Michigan National Guard’s Unit Training Equipment Site, or UTES, supports the training and maintenance of equipment in the Michigan Army National Guard. Located at Fort Custer Training Center in Augusta, Michigan’s UTES facility literally keeps the Michigan Army National Guard rolling. In 2021 alone, the team completed more than 1,300 work orders.
“Our mission is to train Soldiers on wheeled vehicle maintenance, supporting units throughout Michigan,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Rondo, the superintendent for UTES. “We keep the equipment serviced so units are capable of performing their mission needs, whether deploying overseas or transporting equipment to and from local bases.”
Staffed with 27 mechanics and 5 support roles, the UTES supports multiple sites throughout Michigan, to include the National All Domain Warfighting Center (NADWC). Located at Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center and Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, the NADWC boasts several training events throughout the year that utilize wheeled vehicles.
“The way we support NADWC events such as Northern Strike is by maintaining their equipment throughout the year, enabling them to conduct the training in Grayling,” said Rondo. “The UTES facility is utilized by units on their drill weekends leading up to Northern Strike, preparing the equipment and training the mechanics in a more controlled environment for maintenance. The preparatory training here is a force multiplier allowing Soldiers to build more confidence in their abilities to perform the repairs on the equipment. This enables success in the field during Northern Strike.”
“Throughout the year, we serviced more than 1,300 vehicles from 20 Michigan Units, several units out of state/sister services, a few Marine Corps units, and Air National Guard equipment as well,” he said.
The facility’s main focus is maintaining predominantly diesel powered vehicles throughout the Army’s inventory.
“Our mechanics have in depth mechanical abilities and through training and experience, we take them to the next level to be able to do engine swaps and repairs and transmission replacements,” said Rondo.
For some, working as a vehicle maintainer in the Michigan Army National Guard has fulfilled a personal interest as well a career.
“When I was in high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do exactly,” said Spc. Charles Barrons, 1463rd Transportation Company and a UTES mechanic. “I have always been into cars and mechanical things, taking things apart, and putting them back together. I thought if I joined the Guard as a mechanic, I will be learning mechanical skills through the military plus all the other opportunities that come up.”
UTES also works to modernize tactical wheeled vehicles and heavy equipment transporters, which includes communication technology. These vehicles typically transport military personnel, munitions, water, fuel, and other supplies.
Through the Army’s Wheeled Maintenance Training Department, Soldiers learn a variety of maintenance skills such as maintenance on brakes, diesel engines, electrical, and hydraulics.
“We do a lot of annual services such as oil changes and tire replacements,” said Rondo. “We go through the equipment to make sure they are completely safe and conduct in-depth preventative maintenance checks and services.”
Conducting routine maintenance has its perks and allows the mechanics to fully understand the vehicles.
“When you do a full annual, biannual, or triannual service on equipment, you really learn a lot more about the truck,” said Barrons. “You’re looking for everything when you’re doing a service—you’re looking at every piece of the truck, every function, and every piece of equipment to make sure everything is working right.”
“When something is not, you get to troubleshoot to find out what needs to be done to fix it—you’re going to learn more about the vehicle,” he said.
Even though UTES’s primary focus is wheeled vehicles, they have broadened the job opportunities for the maintenance shop to hold 15 different military occupational specialty jobs.
“We have a lot of generator mechanics, light and heavy wheeled mechanics, heavy equipment repair, and air conditioning mechanics,” said Rondo. “We even have heavy equipment operators because we have the need to transport equipment to and from locations.”
Michigan National Guard Soldiers assigned to UTES have trained, combat-capable forces that support federal and civil missions.
“This particular facility supported missions that went to Wisconsin this past year, conducting recovery operations,” said Rondo. “Our Soldiers were on call and drove from here to pick up equipment to bring back here for repair.”
Other Soldiers used their skills overseas. Barrons has overseas deployments where he put his experience to the test.
“I have been deployed three different times to three different countries and each one was different,” he said. “The first deployment was from 2005-2006 with the 1072nd Maintenance Company to Kuwait supporting transportation units.”
“My second deployment was 2008-2009 with the 1463rd Transportation Company to Iraq and my last deployment was the end of 2013 to the end of 2014 to Afghanistan, with the 1460th Transportation Company,” he said.
Barrons, who averages one to two vehicles a week, also recognizes his knowledge and experiences can benefit the Soldiers in his unit through mentorship.
“At this point in my career, I try to pass on my knowledge so Soldiers in my organization,” he said. “Whenever I am at drill, I always get the newer Soldiers to help to develop their growth.”
“I can get a bunch of seasoned Soldiers and get the job done quickly but if I take somebody who has never done it before and now they’ve done it—that’s information that’s going to be carried on and help the unit,” he said.
For Rondo, he has appreciates the accomplishments of the Soldiers assigned to UTES.
“I enjoy this assignment and the satisfaction of knowing I did something and the Michigan National Guard is better because of it,” he said.