RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany –
During Vice President Kamala Harris’ recent weeklong trip to meet with the heads of state from Zambia, Tanzania and Ghana in Africa, Army aviation assets were used to support some of her movements. And in support of those assets was Logistics Assistance Representative Tracy Mabes.
Mabes, a U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command LAR assigned to the 405th Army Field Support Brigade, is a CH-47 Chinook expert maintainer and trainer. He traveled with a group of Soldiers from the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade and a few of their helicopters from Ramstein Air Base to Africa in Air Force C-17 Globemaster strategic transporters earmarked for the mission.
“We had to fold up all the Black Hawks. And the Chinooks – we had to tear them down completely at Ramstein for transport. And then we had to get them all loaded and then unloaded, built back up, and test flown before the mission date. It was quite a lot of work,” Mabes said.
Mabes – a retired Army first sergeant and career Chinook mechanic who has been a 405th AFSB LAR in Katterbach, Germany, for over a year – said he was able to provide the Soldier maintainers from the 12th CAB supporting the mission with several tips and tricks during preparation, disassembly, loading, unloading and reassembly.
“I was in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment so I’m used to doing a lot tear-downs and loadings. We did them all the time, there,” said Mabes, who specializes in Chinooks but is also qualified to work on UH-60 Black Hawks and can help out with AH-64 Apaches, too.
“For example, this isn’t in the shipping manual, but there’s an elbow on the oil cooler,” Mabes said. “You need to break torque on it and have it loose because when you’re pulling the bird into the C-17, you need to be able to unscrew it and set it aside so the air frame will clear the extended fuel tanks in the ceiling of the C-17. As you get past the tanks, you need to put it back on so the bird doesn’t leak.”
One of the C-17s had a mechanical malfunction after loading so the aviators had to trans-load the helicopter from one C-17 to another. Mabes provided the aviators with critical guidance throughout the mission to include the trans-loading of the $80 million air frame.
“You need to have two people on top, one person on the steering bar, one person watching the nose, one person watching the tail for clearance, one person on the brake and one person on the chalks during loading and unloading,” Mabes said.
As a U.S. Army Materiel Command cargo and utility aircraft LAR, Mabes was honored to assist with the mission in support of the vice president’s visit to Africa, he said, but that wasn’t the only recent mission he felt honored to support. Mabes also deployed to Incirlik, Türkiye, for nearly three weeks to help provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the people there following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Southern Türkiye, Feb. 6.
Over a dozen Chinooks and Black Hawks from the 12th CAB and the 1st Armored Division Combat Aviation Brigade were flown from Germany and Romania to Türkiye to provide food, hygiene kits, diapers, plastic sheets for temporary shelters, tents, cots and medical supplies. In 21 days, they completed over 29 missions, flew over 284 hours and moved 573,250 pounds of humanitarian relief items.
“Between the Chinooks and the Black Hawks, we hauled over a half a million pounds of humanitarian relief supplies during that mission,” Mabes said.
But the humanitarian assistance mission didn’t go fault free. For example, a Chinook had a power steering advisory that stayed active, requiring the aircraft to perform two-wheel taxi operations, but the loading apron for the humanitarian supplies was very tight so two-wheel taxis were considered unsafe, said David Field, an AMC senior command representative with the 405th AFSB.
“Tracy (Mabes) provided troubleshooting assistance to find the root cause of the failure and discovered a power wire in the steering harness with a ground fault,” Field said. “A temporary repair was performed on the wire, and further troubleshooting found the feedback potentiometer on the steering actuator with resistance greater than drawing specifications.”
“Tracy recommended replacing the harness and the power steering actuator, which ultimately fixed the issue,” said Field. “His forward presence was key to the high state of readiness of all those aircraft.”
“It’s like having a good insurance policy to have me there with them because things could either go really smoothly and there’s nothing I’m really needed for, or something bad could happen and I’m able to help out,” Mabes said.
“The Turkish people on base were super appreciative,” Mabes said. “Everyone I talked to had a story about a loved one, a family member or a close friend seriously affected by the quake. It was a short notice mission for us, but we were honored to assist.”
LARs are Army civilians serving in motor pools, aircraft hangars, maintenance shops and offices around the world. Highly trained, they bring more than two dozen specialty skills to Army equipment readiness requirements. They are part of the U.S. Army Sustainment Command’s global network of Army Field Support Brigades and are linked to every echelon of the Army in the field. The 405th AFSB has several LARs with multiple specialties assigned across Europe.
The 405th AFSB is assigned to ASC and under the operational control of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, U.S. Army Europe and Africa. The brigade is headquartered in Kaiserslautern, Germany, and provides materiel enterprise support to U.S. Forces throughout Europe and Africa – providing theater sustainment logistics; synchronizing acquisition, logistics and technology; and leveraging ASC’s materiel enterprise to support joint forces. For more information on the 405th AFSB, visit the official website at www.afsbeurope.army.mil and the official Facebook site at www.facebook.com/405thAFSB.