Army Sustainment magazine

Changing doctrinal terminology is not an endeavor that the doctrine community undertakes haphazardly. The development of the term "sustainment" was not a fad initiated by some colonel trying to make his mark before retiring. This terminology has been an issue that learned veterans of military logistics have been agonizing over for years.

In the January-February 2013 "Army Sustainment" article "Logistics Misconstrued," Dr. Chris Paparone challenges the use of the word "sustainment." Unfortunately, his etymological analysis does not bring clarity to the discussion and fails to address the practical needs driving the new terminology.

The Training and Doctrine Command changed the terminology because the Army was undergoing a revolution in training, combat operations, and logistics support. During discussions in the mid-2000s, the terms "logistics" and "combat service support" caused constant confusion. These terms have meanings rooted in their dictionary context, and they have theoretical history as well.

However, these terms were also the names of the functional practices that were being phased out and would no longer exist. We needed to differentiate among the lexicon, the theory, the old methods, and the new process.

Usually the title of the workflow serves as the name of a process. "Combat service and support" is
the old name of the previous process. But if the mission is humanitarian aid or disaster relief, then the word "combat" does not apply since it represents the wrong outcome. Likewise, the words "logistics" and "administration" both have too much history from the old school.

Hence, the concepts and doctrine community focused on the outcome of the process and titled the new process "sustainment." It is not a perfect word, but it successfully highlights that the process is new and curtails confusion with the last generation of methodologies and processes.

In every academic sense, Dr. Paparone is correct to use the word "logistics" for discussions of abstract military theory. However, theorists can get away with using a word in broad general terms with fuzzy boundaries. This way, abstract theory is timeless and not constrained by the immediate and transient considerations of practical realities.

In Army doctrine, we don't write theory; we define practice. Words have meaning--until they cause confusion and get in the way. It was out of necessity that we turned to using "sustainment" as the title to the process. Sustainment is a word that is free of the preconceptions that created ambiguity and caused confusion. This word is free to clearly discriminate between the old and new processes.
The academic theory is called "military logistics," but for practical reasons, the current process as practiced by Soldiers in the field is titled "sustainment."

--Charles Bissett,
Military Analyst,
Combined Arms Support Command


This letter was published in the May-June 2013 issue of Army Sustainment magazine.

Page last updated Mon May 6th, 2013 at 09:42