By Dino W. Buchanan, Honolulu District Public Affairs
HELEMANO MILITARY RESERVATION - Soldiers of 1st Platoon, A Company, 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power), in support of U.S. Army Garrison- Hawaii Directorate of Public Works (DPW), conducted training and performed maintenance on the Helemano Military Reservation power substation May 23-25 and June 1 and 2.
"We utilized this training opportunity in order to maintain critical components of the electrical distribution system that supplies power to more than 2,000 personnel within the Helemano Military Reservation community," said Mission Officer-in-Charge Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Velez.
The 1st Platoon is one of four posted with its company headquarters in A Company, 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power), at Schofield's South Range area. The 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power) is a power generation battalion assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that provides commercial-level power to military units and federal relief organizations during full-spectrum operations.
The Helemano substation works as the electrical generation, transmission, and distribution system for all of HMR. The 1st platoon Soldiers called this maintenance necessary for maintaining stability in the HMR power grid as well as serving a deterrent to a future potential post "brown out."
"We're here to make sure a catastrophic loss of power never occurs," said Mission Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge and Power Station Mechanic Sgt. Isaac Lower. "On previous maintenance done here we've found cases of panel switches actually trying to arch over to another power source on the panel. It can be little issues like that where an entire panel board gets knocked out and could result in further power loss across HMR. "
The maintenance at the Helemano substation included opening power panels to visually examine circuit boards, testing circuit breakers, and analyzing the mechanical substation power generation.
"We are the only post (A Company) of our 249th sister companies across the Army that actually works with a post DPW for maintenance like this," said Master Sgt. Amanda Nolte, Power Safety Sergeant. "So our platoons have a unique opportunity to train and provide regularly-scheduled maintenance for DPW on a rotational basis at the military substations on Oahu, one on Kauai and at Pohakuloa Training Area on the Island of Hawaii."
The maintenance is coordinated on a flexible schedule by both DPW and the 249th to accommodate personnel and equipment as needed. Seven 1st Platoon engineers provided the manpower for the Helemano substation maintenance.
"It's a joint effort," said Sgt. Jonathan Craft, Power Station Electrician, while donning a protective suit prior to opening an energized power panel for inspection inside the substation. "They (DPW) ask us if we can do a specific maintenance on various dates and we say "yay or nay" based on our platoon work schedules. In the end, we both work to get the job done when it's needed."
Energy security, and efficient use of power is a priority for the U.S. Army, so the maintenance conducted at the substation also serves as a valuable training evolution for 1st Platoon, while providing a logistical helping hand to the garrison's Directorate of Public Works. The substation maintenance and training are part of the readiness initiative within the Army Corps of Engineers to stay updated on energy-related preparedness.
Power Station Mechanic Sgt. Joshua Gordon deemed the substation maintenance as a beneficial training tool for the A Company Soldiers.
"Rather than just doing notional classroom-type training, out here we actually rack out and test large circuit breakers and it provides us with real hands-on training," Gordon said.
"We do a lot of training prior to coming out here and doing this maintenance," explained Sgt. Lower. "But until you get out here, physically wear the (protective) suit, crank the breakers out and test them on the testing equipment, all the training we may see on a PowerPoint slide doesn't really amount to anything unless you can come on-site and apply those skills. Once in the field, the safety hazards and the energized electrical power is real."
"I think the maintenance we perform on the substations with DPW validates everything we do to get ready to do this work," said Sgt. Craft.
Initial maintenance by the 1st Platoon engineers revealed one circuit breaker needing to be replaced. Sgt. Lower explained that should such a breaker fail, it could mean a substantial loss of power failure for the HMR grid.
Nolte estimates that DPW and the Army Garrison saves thousands of dollars each year by having the maintenance jointly done by A Company Soldiers and DPW rather than contracted to outside engineers.
"It's a great feeling to know our maintenance work has the power to affect Soldiers and families' lives in a positive way," Master Sgt. Nolte said.
Release no. 16-07