FRANKFORT, Ky. – Warning: death, serious injury or damage to Army equipment will occur if actions specified are not implemented. That was the Safety of Use Message (SOUM) sent out this spring across all branches of service, including Active, Reserve and National Guard.
Just in the Kentucky National Guard alone, more than 1,200 tires have been damaged. Nearly 50 percent of the Humvees were involved and almost every unit in the commonwealth affected. Tires on 290 vehicles would need to be replaced due to cracks in the tread. Nationally, in the Guard, over 32,000 wheel assemblies have needed to be replaced.
The message stated, any vehicle and trailer equipped with the specified tires which may exhibit sidewall cracking can lead to a tire failure and must be removed. The failures in the tire increase the risk of a sudden blow-out with immediate loss of air pressure, accident or rollover which could result in serious injury or death.
Chief Warrant Officer Stephen Plouvier with the 203rd Forward Support Company was the first to recognize the issue. With his concern for Soldier safety, he identified tires with cracks and nearly all of them were over five years old. He brought the concern to the Surface Maintenance Office (SMO). The staff began detailed research and began collecting data and took it straight to the United States Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM). TACOM then began their own research and it was decided all wheel assemblies and tires over five years old would need to be replaced.
"The mechanics and employees turning the wrenches find a lot of these issues, it's up to us as managers and supervisors to listen and look at the problems and weed through what they are telling us to find a solution," said Plouvier, surface maintenance mechanic supervisor. "The way the tire blew out and pattern of damage that occurred just looked odd. After further inspection I noticed some cracks in the tire that did not look right, I looked at a few more tires of the same make and found the same type of cracks occurring in other tires with similarities in the locations of the cracks."
Nationwide, numerous Humvee accidents and blowouts have occurred and may have been attributed to the defect. Leadership within Kentucky's logistics office were impressed with the findings and grateful for the concerns for safety in the field.
"I couldn't be more proud of the way our SMO staff recognized the seriousness of this issue and pushed TACOM to look at the tires. I am convinced by doing so they have saved lives and potential damage to government equipment DoD wide," said Col. Jim Covany, director of logistics. "When I say SMO staff, I mean every Soldier in the maintenance community. We could not have accomplished this task without every single mechanic on board. What they did in a little over a month was change over 1500 wheel assemblies."
Soldiers drive various types of equipment during the week and the vehicles are very heavy and can do a lot of damage if a tire blows or there is an accident.
"A hard left or right and the Soldier loses control, not only is the Soldier and passengers at risk of injury, but that minivan with a family of four driving down the road trying to live their lives as well," said Plouvier. "Basically I felt it was my responsibility to keep raising awareness about what I believed to be a manufacturing defect in the tire."
The Kentucky Guard requested all shops complete an inspection of 100% of all tires to find dry rotting or cracking, similar to the cuts found in the blowouts. Similar traits were discovered. More than 150 mechanics and 14 shops across the state began the daunting task of inspecting the tires and replacing those deemed unserviceable.
"We recognized there was a limited number of wheel assemblies in the Army inventory," said Lt. Col Steve Engels, surface maintenance manager. "With annual training season fast approaching, we knew we had to act quickly to not interrupt the annual training schedule."
The tire problem was discovered in April and by mid-May a SOUM from TACOM was published and Kentucky continued to move forward with the replacement of tires.
"We are building readiness and we did not want our units unable to train. The only way to do that was to get these tires replaced," said Engels. "We were around 75% completion rate when the SOUM came out. It was extremely important for us to get out in front of this. This saved our annual training season."
As a busy training season was in full swing, units in the field reported no major issues with their vehicles. Kentucky's largest brigade, the 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade conducted an intense field training exercise with more than 1,000 Soldiers and nearly 300 vehicles.
Lt. Col. J.B. Richmond, deputy commander of the 149th, said the unit's annual training was unhindered because Col. Covany's staff were proactive and anticipated the tire impact months before. "This, in concert with the aggressive approach to fixing the tire issue allowed Kentucky to conduct the AT season on schedule and as planned."
While the cracks may have been small, Engels stressed the importance of the discovery and the results of a lot of hard work.
"Ultimately, we're talking about Soldiers' lives," he said. "I believe that two things were achieved in carrying out the plan that was put together, ensuring Soldiers were taken care of and that units were still able to train and maintain their readiness."