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Total Army effort at Rock Island supports new ambulance production for National Guard

The M997A3 is the newest Humvee ground ambulance in the Army fleet, and is currently being produced at the Rock Island Arsenal Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center, in Illinois.

Jeff Hendriks at the RIA-JMTC works on assembling the shelter for the latest M997A3 Ambulance that is being fielded for the Army National Guard Bureau.

Pfc. Aaron Van Hook, with the Army Reserve 389 Forward Support Company, inspects the HMMWV chassis at Rock Island Arsenal.

A worker at the RIA-JMTC secures the ambulance shelter to a HMMWV chassis.

Last January, the Rock Island Arsenal Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center (RIA-JMTC) unveiled the newest tactical HMMWV ambulance in the Army. The M997A3, the most modern ambulance in the fleet, is fitted on a HMMWV chassis with a modified body and now is headed to Army National Guard (ARNG) units around the country.

Today, RIA-JMTC continues to satisfy the National Guard's order for 500 ambulances. RIA-JMTC manufactures the shelter box and integrates it with the HMMWV purchased from a contractor. The program has continually improved since the first five pilot trucks were made last year. Last month, the program clocked in ahead of schedule and on budget.

More than 200 ambulances have already been delivered to ARNG units in 16 states around the country.

"The feedback we have gotten has been very positive," said Rickey Yates, chief of the Army National Guard Combat Service Support Branch.  "These ambulances will help augment civil authorities and save lives because they can go that last mile and push through areas where civilian ambulances just can't go."

As with any program that comes to the RIA-JMTC, the Army's only full metal manufacturing facility, it all starts with a requirement. In 2009, the U.S. Army had an overall shortage of HMMWV ambulances. The National Guard made up almost half of that shortage according to Mr. Douglas J. Curell, chief of the G8 Force Development, Army National Guard. In the Guard, these vehicles support a wide range of state and federal missions.

"The Army recognized this significant capability gap and made plans to mitigate that gap by applying resources," Curell stated in his roll out ceremony remarks on January 30. "The Army partnered with us (ARNG) for the procurement of these ambulances. With support from the Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support (PEO CS & CSS), the Product Director for Light Tactical Vehicles (PD-LTV) and RIA-JMTC, we are on our way to equipping the ARNG with the most modern ground combat ambulance."

The ambulance program is just one of the more than 300 products currently being produced at Rock Island with scheduled deliveries. The robust Arsenal can make items as small as springs to full howitzer recoil mechanisms and even prototypes for the Line of Communication Bridge that will eventually replace the old Bailey Bridges.

Not all programs at the Arsenal are created the same. Each one comes with its own sets of challenges, drawings, parts, quality checks and processes.

"We are not a one trick pony," says Col. David J. Luders, the 47th commander of RIA-JMTC. "While items we produce may be similar from time to time, almost every new product we produce has to start from scratch."

"At a very simplistic level, it is like watching my children put together a Lego city. While some of the parts are the same, every building, car and person has their own set of drawings that is different from everything else. Those drawings must be studied, a strategy must be devised to build it, and you have to make sure you have all your parts on hand and organized to make it all come together. At a basic level, that is how we have to have our factory set up."

Like many programs, the ambulance program presented some unique challenges from the beginning when RIA-JMTC began the manufacturing process on the five pilot trucks.

"We knew the Army and ARNG had a requirement for these ambulances and once the decision was made for them to come to Rock Island, we immediately started to develop a plan with PD-LTV," said Scott Young, ambulance program manager at RIA-JMTC. "When we started, we didn't have a finalized technical data package, so we worked with the Army program manager to figure out what was the best way to produce this item effectively and efficiently."

When any program or item first comes to Rock Island, the drawings and parts associated with the product are reviewed so a production plan can be put in place. RIA-JMTC has multiple process planners that develop plans for the hundreds of products produced at the Arsenal.

Each program is also an opportunity to review and continuously improve the Arsenal's processes.

"When we first started, we knew the drawings and the bill of materials (BOM) were not finalized. However, this gave us an opportunity to look at better ways we could make the ambulance shelter and integration processes better," said Andrew McCalley, mechanical engineer at RIA-JMTC, who worked on developing the plan for the ambulance.

While the Arsenal and PD-LTV were preparing for the start of production, it became apparent acquiring many of the parts would take longer than projected.

"There was certainly a lot of apprehension when we first started the program from all sides," said Col. William Boruff, the Army's Project Manager for Transportation Systems, which oversees PD-LTV. "There were some very unique and unanticipated part challenges right out of the gate."

Rock Island knew it was having issues with the program. To support the Arsenal, PEO CS & CSS and the Army's TACOM Life Cycle Management Command formed a team of members from across the acquisition life cycle and organic industrial base communities to help find programmatic solutions.

"The team that came to evaluate us and the program was extremely helpful," Luders said. "It made us aware of our blind spots and the team made some recommendations that not only impacted the program, but completely changed the way we do business for all our programs at the Arsenal."

While some of the recommendations were implemented over time that impacted the overall business of the Arsenal, many of the recommendations for the ambulance were enacted immediately.

"The first thing we did was increase internal and external communication and the involvement of senior leaders in all the organizations," said Young. "We implemented monthly program management reviews where all issues were brought to the table and discussed."

The acquisition strategy also shifted at RIA-JMTC to help procure the parts needed to support the ambulance line. "We had a dedicated contracting cell working on procuring parts for the ambulance," said Gail Bindewald, contracting officer. "We expanded that team to align our personnel to meet the requirements."

Allocating more people was not the only change the contracting team made. They also looked at where they could group like items and find a single vendor for the like group of items.

"Typically in the past, we would seek suppliers who could kit a variety of items so a worker on the shop floor had all his parts together," said Bindewald. "This time we found that it was more effective to award contracts for similar items. For instance, we were able to find a single supplier that could provide most of the hoses needed for the ambulance instead of contracting out to multiple sources."

During the initial test builds and even low-rate production, securing a supplier for some of the fabricated parts and electrical equipment was difficult because many commercial companies did not want to supply such a low quantity. That opened another opportunity for the Army's organic industrial base.

"We reported this issue across the entire Army Materiel Command (AMC) and Tobyhanna Army Depot came to our rescue," said Luders. "Being able to call on your sister arsenal or depot for help and support is what makes the Army's organic industrial base so strong."

Tobyhanna Army Depot personnel are fabricating miles of new cable as part of a program to update the Army's tactical ambulance fleet.

"The components we've received met our production specifications and we're very happy with the pricing, delivery time, professionalism and weekly progress reports for delivery updates," said Young, "Working with Tobyhanna Army Depot, we were able to procure the parts necessary for successful completion of the task at hand, without having to ask for additional long-lead funding approval to produce higher quantities, which could have delayed the project."

With the communication and supply chains well established, RIA-JMTC, the ARNG and PD-LTV continue to work together in the spirit of continuous improvement to ensure that tactical HMMWV ambulances get to National Guard units who stand ready to support civil authorities in the event of a natural disaster.

"Everyone involved in this program knows the consequence of not getting these ambulances fielded. We all came together and worked on this as a team in order to reach the right result for our Soldiers," said Boruff.

Over the last year, RIA-JMTC realigned its business to not only meet the needs of the ambulance, but also have become more adaptable and agile to be able to meet the needs of the joint warfighter.

"The lessons learned from just this one program has had a ripple effect across the whole factory," Luders said. "We now have a new organization structure that is aligned to meet responsive needs from the field. We have expanded our lines of communication outside the factory walls to improve customer satisfaction. Furthermore, we saw we had to change within ourselves and adapted. That is how this Arsenal has stayed relevant for the past 152 years… we have adapted." 
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