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News | June 10, 2020

International program manager finds new life for old helicopters

By Gina Baltrusch U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command

A former Navy supply officer found his “perfect” niche with the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command’s Security Assistance Management Directorate -- where his education, military logistics expertise and dedication to serving the nation blend with a life-long interest in international cultures.

“I’ve always enjoyed learning about other parts of the world and different cultures, and my undergraduate degree is in international studies, so working for SAMD just feels like the perfect combination for my skills and interests,” said Chris Jennings, an international program manager who supports non-standard aviation foreign military sales (FMS) customers in Europe.

Security Assistance Management Directorate staff work within the AMC Security Assistance Enterprise, requesting countries’ representatives and Program Executive Offices to develop and deliver a total FMS package designed to last the lifetime of that equipment and beyond. Foreign military sales help U.S. allies and partner nations get the military systems they need to protect themselves from neighboring threats, improve their nations’ readiness and enhance interoperability with U.S. forces.  

The Non-Standard Aviation Branch supports nations whose FMS packages include aircraft not used by the U.S. military. The term “non-standard” could be interpreted as requiring creative solutions to find providers for the replacement parts and support those systems still need, according to Jennings.

“That’s the challenge of the job in non-standard aviation – once the U.S. military stops using a helicopter or missile system, the military contracts they have in place to sustain them also get cancelled. To meet our commitments to FMS customers still using those systems, we have to find other resources,” said Jennings.

Jennings’ efforts often cast a wide net of collaboration involving manufacturers and other military organizations. 
“There are several aviation parts suppliers across the country where we can often find the parts we need,” Jennings said. “Jennings takes pride in his program giving some retired aircraft a new lease on life.

Last year, Jennings played a key role in transferring a number of the Army’s retired Kiowa Warrior OH-58 helicopters to an FMS partner nation. 

“Chris orchestrated the transfer of Army Kiowa helicopters that were declared Excess Defense Articles (EDA) to one of our FMS partner nations in Europe,” said Jody Sanders, the former SAMD Utility Aviation Division chief, who recently retired. “As EDA equipment, the Army was in the process of destroying the aircraft and a lot of the components on the aircraft. And, would have done the same for all the unusable parts that were still in the Army supply system.”

Through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency’s EDA program, allies and partners can acquire excess U.S. defense equipment at a reduced price that is based on the condition of the equipment or through a grant. The partner pays for packing, crating, handling and transportation, as well as refurbishment, if applicable. The transferred EDA equipment is typically used to modernize partner forces. 

“We didn’t want them to get disposed and crushed when they could still be beneficial to one of our FMS partners,” said Jennings. “Many of the older helicopters that get retired still work great and have a lot of service life remaining – the Army has maintained them very well. They’re just being replaced by more modern systems.”

Jennings was instrumental in processing the helicopters and related items as EDA and getting approval from the Army to transfer them to a long-time U.S. Army FMS partner nation.

 “The EDA transfer also provided a cost avoidance of millions of dollars for the Army to not have to destroy and dispose of the aircraft, components and spare parts,” Sanders noted.

Jennings and other key FMS team members watched the win-win endeavor reach fruition when they traveled in 2019 to monitor the helicopters being offloaded from the ship and then delivered to the partner nation.

“I have a strong sense of purpose in this job. I feel that what I do has a positive effect on our nation’s overall military readiness,” said Jennings. “Cultivating the relationships we’ve built with our FMS partner nations enhances the quality of cooperation and interoperability with our forces when responding to threats around the world.”