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Army needs Soldiers to get amped up for Prime Power

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Dec. 30, 2015) -- Some know how to replace a light switch. They're electricians. Others know how to wire up an entire basecamp. Those are 12P "Prime Power production specialists," and the Army needs more of them in the training pipeline.

Soldiers trained in the Prime Power production specialty deploy, install, operate and maintain power generation and distribution assets in support of theater commanders. Inside the United States, they are also part of the National Response Framework to provide power in places where the civilian power grid has gone down due to natural disasters.

The Army has authorizations for 288 12P Soldiers in fiscal year 2016. In fiscal year 2017, the career field will grow to 297 authorizations, said Lt. Col. Scott L. Holland Jr., the Engineer Enlisted Branch chief with U.S. Army Human Resources Command, or HRC. Today, the Army has 293 Soldiers in the military occupational specialty, or MOS.

While the 12P career field appears to be sitting pretty for now, its small size makes it susceptible to fluctuations in manning percentage, especially among sergeants.

"Based on natural attrition, we anticipate the MOS to have a shortage at the entry level for sergeants," Holland said.

By the end of FY16, he expects the career field to be short 12 sergeants. For FY17, that shortage is expected to grow - to a projected shortage of 39 sergeants. By FY18, he said, the career field expects a shortage of 45 sergeants.

"I anticipate the in call for 12P's to remain through FY16," Holland said.

Right now, the Army is accepting applications from both specialists and sergeants for reclassification into the 12P MOS, said James Bragg, chief of HRC's Retention and Reclassification Branch.

"Currently, Soldiers approved for reclassification into MOS 12P may be entitled to a Tier 5 [$3,500 - $11,600] bonus upon successful completion of training," Bragg said. "In addition, Soldiers in the rank of specialist are eligible for promotion to sergeant upon graduation under the Special MOS Alignment Promotion Program."

The 12P program does not accept Soldiers out of initial entry training. Instead, Soldiers who want to control all the power on a military installation must instead volunteer to transfer from their current MOS into the 12P program.

Training for 12P lasts more than a year, and takes place at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The Army needs Soldiers to apply now to the career field to ensure continuity of noncommissioned officer, NCO, leadership in the future.

To apply for 12P, a Soldier must meet the minimum qualifications, including Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery composite scores of 110 on GT, 107 on TECH, and 107 on ELEC. Soldiers must have also completed high school-level algebra and have a 70 percent on the Basic Math and Science Test.

The year-long Prime Power School is broken into three approximately four-month segments. First is a four-month academic period. Second is an operations phase, where every Soldier learns to operate a power plant safely.

For the final phase of Prime Power School, Soldiers are split up into different tracks, where they will earn their additional skill identifier, or ASI, for 12P. Soldiers can earn the S2 mechanical equipment maintenance (power station) ASI; the S3 electrical equipment maintenance (power station) ASI; or the E5 instrument maintenance (power station) ASI.

William E. Montgomery, program manager for the Prime Power School, said Soldiers can get up to 38 college credits for completing the school. A total of 32 of those credits come from nearby Lincoln University, located in Jefferson City, Missouri. Lincoln University adjunct professors teach the entire curriculum during the academic phase of Prime Power School. That phase includes mathematics, applied physics concepts, mechanical system engineering and electrical system engineering.

An additional six hours of college credit is offered through the Army Education System for completing other portions of the Prime Power School. Additionally, the American Council of Education recognizes successful completion of Prime Power School with their own 38 credits.

While there are small pockets of 12P Soldiers throughout the Army, about 39 percent of those assigned to the career field will end up on Fort Belvoir, Virginia; 22 percent in Hawaii; 22 percent on Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and seven percent on Fort Bliss, Texas.

REWARDING CAREER

Master Sgt. William P. States serves as the battalion operations NCO in charge at the 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power), at Fort Belvoir. He started in the Army as a heavy equipment operator, but in 2000 he made the move to 12P, and finished at the school in 2001.

States said one of the reasons he thought about going into 12P was for the college credits it offered after attending the Prime Power School house. Those credits are something he said he had needed at the time to further his chances at promotion.

As a 12P, States said he's been three times to Iraq, and has deployed around the United States for disaster relief "more times than I can remember." Disaster relief, he said, is one of the other reasons he signed up for the career field.

"For me, it's interesting and rewarding to go out and restore power to a city that's lost power to a hurricane or ice storms, something along those lines," he said.

States said that in the aftermath of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Sandy - both disasters where Army 12Ps have been called out to assist - Prime Power specialists were instrumental in getting the lights back on.

"When a natural disaster hits, they will help with doing assessments, and installing back-up generators to critical facilities such as hospitals, fire stations, water pumping stations, and waste water treatment facilities," he said. "The 12P goes in, conducts an assessment to see what size generator is needed and where it needs to be hooked up, and you check for where the fuel would go. That's one of the most satisfying jobs is to help people in need, and be able to install the backup generators and restore power to critical facilities."

Prime Power Soldiers also hook up the juice for commanders in deployed locations, States said. He said a Prime Power platoon could bring to a base camp four of their MEP-810 "Prime Power units," or PPUs. Each MEP-810 PPU contains two engines and two alternators, each of which produces 420 kilowatts of power. So a single MEP-810 PPU can produce a total of 840 kilowatts of power.

Altogether, a Prime Power platoon could bring about 3,360 kilowatts of power to a base camp, if need be. A regular home needs about 5 kilowatts, he said. An average sized base camp, about 1,200 service members, could be powered with one 18-man Prime Power platoon, along with their four PPUs.

States said that a unit of combat Soldiers who are going out to set up camp somewhere would initially make power for themselves using the tactical generators they bring with them. Such a unit might have multiple tactical generators set up all over their camp, each powering a different function or tent, for instance. In such a situation, each of those generators would end up producing way more power than what is required for the task to which it is assigned.

"They might have 100 kilowatts or 200 kilowatts, but they only use half of that power - but that's what they have. That's what they use. The generator has to be on to make power. So even if they only have a couple of things on, they are using this large generator," States said.

When such a unit realizes they will be on location for a while, and that the way they are producing power is inefficient, that's when States said Prime Power gets a call to come out and assist.

A Prime Power unit can come in, set up a central power plant for an entire base camp, and tailor the power generated - and fuel consumed - for the actual needs of the base camp, States said. They can reduce fuel and power waste at a base camp, and as a result, they can reduce the number of times the base camp needs to have a fuel convoy come in to resupply.

"If I have this central power plant, I can turn up or down, on or off, these other engines, and kind of scale it to the size of the load we need," States said. "So what we do if we have a large base camp and they are running on tactical generators, we can put our power plant in and get a lot closer to what their actual requirements are for running engines."

When a base camp gets really large, contractors can come in to provide even more power - and Prime Power units remain behind to manage that. Even in this condition, 12Ps often provide a valuable service of serving as the contracting officer reps to oversee the electrical services that are being provided by the contractor.

Energy security, and efficient use of power is a priority for the Army, and it's something States said has been on the minds of Prime Power Soldiers for a long time.

Moving from tactical power, which is set up by a unit, to what Prime Power can provide, saves money, saves fuel, and reduces the need for convoys. One example of how a 12P unit streamlined power delivery happened at a location in al Asad, Iraq, States said.

"They were running a lot of the power on spot generation," States said. In that location, multiple generators deployed across multiple locations were generating way more power than what was actually needed at the site.

"By troubleshooting and fixing the grid that was there, we were able to restore utility power to those locations that were running on spot generation," States said.

At the site, 12P Soldiers fixed underground cables that linked that unit to contractor-provided commercial generator power - and was then able to shut down all those spot generators. While the unit had been, altogether, generating 10,000 kilowatts of inefficiently-distributed power on its own, it was really only using about 2,800 kilowatts of that power.

"So we took off the grid 10 megawatts worth of generators," he said. "In one year's time that would save them $10 million in fuel," he said.

With reduced fuel use, States said, there are also reduced fuel convoys.

"The amount of fuel we are using is so much less, we are taking out convoys - and that's less Soldiers on the road," he said.

FOUR GREAT REASONS

States said Soldiers might consider transferring to the 12P career field for several reasons. The first, he said, is that attending the school is a "great educational opportunity. They have a lot of great instructors. It's a really good year of learning."

For Soldiers who pass the Prime Power School, they might, like States, also benefit from the additional college credits.

Another reason, he said, is the opportunity to participate in disaster relief. "It is very rewarding to go out and help people in need. It's very gratifying."

In the midst of an Army drawing down in end strength, the 12P career field, States said, is not looking to lose any Soldiers - they are struggling to keep them, he said. Soldiers who make the move to Prime Power may find more job security there.

And finally, States said, "the skills and knowledge Soldiers take away after having done this job transition great to civilian life."

For Soldiers concerned about finding work after time in uniform, he said, Prime Power can really electrify a resume.

Soldiers interested in applying to become a Prime Power production specialist should contact their unit career counselor for details on how to make it happen.