Before becoming the S-4 for the 553rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion at Fort Hood, Texas, I did not have a strong understanding of the scope of the job. Essentially, I thought that I would be the financial liability investigation of property loss (FLIPL) guy. I had little to no understanding of how dynamic and challenging, yet rewarding, the position would be.After leaving Fort Hood and attending the Logistics Captains Career Course, I was assigned to the National Training Center to, again, serve as the S-4 officer-in-charge of a support battalion. I would like to share my experiences and some lessons learned in order to help future S-4s succeed.LEAN ON YOUR NONCOMMISSIONED OFFICERSAs an S-4, I quickly learned that I had a lot of learning to do. This is where experienced quartermaster noncommissioned officers (NCOs) enter the equation, specifically the senior supply sergeant who is often referred to as the S-4 NCO-in-charge. Experienced NCOs have the unique ability to shorten the learning curve for young officers.The senior supply sergeant in the battalion is the bridge to the company supply rooms. A good senior supply sergeant knows what is transpiring at the subordinate companies; a great one lives at the companies. Strong mentorship from the senior supply sergeant is a force multiplier for units. Mentors enhance materiel readiness by training company supply sergeants on best practices and techniques.Heeding the counsel of my senior supply sergeant saved me on numerous occasions. The Army property realm has a vast number of regulatory hurdles, and the senior supply sergeants generally know them best. These NCOs have an average of eight to 10 years in Army supply-related positions by the time they reach the battalion staff. There is significant value in an NCO who can say, "Sir, we can't do that, and here is why."EMBRACE ALL OF THE INSPECTIONSThe S-4 spends a large amount of time preparing for inspections, including staff-assisted visits, command supply discipline program inspections, and inspector general inspections. At first, I thought these inspections were nuisances that we had to "push through," but my thought process shifted in my second stint as an S-4.The inspections serve a purpose; they force units to implement and maintain systems. The command supply discipline program, in particular, can be an efficient tool for emplacing systems that lead to continued success and increased readiness.The S-4 is a job in which being reactive can become commonplace. However, no matter the number of projects the S-4 receives, the responsibility to maintain all materiel readiness systems remains paramount. Regular inspections serve as reminders to keep those systems up-to-date and operational. Using the proper systems creates time for special projects that can enhance the organization and facilitate mission success.Remember that each inspection and inspector is different, both in what they are looking for and how they grade. The key is to not become overconfident after a great score or too disheartened by a low score. Each inspection will provide the S-4 with valuable tools for improving the shop, but you have to be willing to listen. Most agencies and staffs that inspect want to see you succeed. They are not the enemy.YOU ARE STILL THE FLIPL GUYWhile being the S-4 is more than being the FLIPL guy, FLIPLs are still a major facet of the job. Urgency is critical to the timely processing of FLIPLs. The taxpayer has entrusted us with the care of Army equipment. The doctrinally correct and timely processing of FLIPLs plays an integral role in the custodianship of those resources.The magic number for FLIPLs is 75 days. Two and half months may sound like a long time, but when you consider four-day weekends, block leave, and missions, those days evaporate quickly. Do not let a day go by as the S-4 without checking the Army FLIPL Tracker. The S-4 section should never delay a FLIPL. The goal is to create efficiencies, not bureaucracies, for processing FLIPLs.Ensure that company commanders have a thorough knowledge of every FLIPL that the S-4 briefs the chain of command. Company commanders have a lot on their agendas; keep them up-to-date on their FLIPLs. Synchronize the companies and battalion on FLIPLs and other supply readiness areas through trackers that are visible to company commanders prior to battalion-level meetings. For instance, ensure the company commanders have access to any information that you will present at command and staff meetings and logistics readiness reviews.Face-to-face interactions with company leaders not only synchronize information but also, and perhaps more importantly, serve as the primary relationship builder with the supported units. Email is not a replacement for in-person communication.BE THE LOGISTICS EXPERT IN THE FIELDMany a staff officer has said, "The easy part of your job, as the S-4, is when we're in the field." There is some truth to that statement. The S-4 has the immense responsibility to resource field training exercises and combat training center rotations. But the S-4's field mission is equally vital to the success of the support battalion, particularly because so much of the support battalion's focus is external.A strong S-4 assists the support operations (SPO) section in providing critical support externally by ensuring the SPO does not have to focus on internal logistics. A team-oriented S-4 handles all aspects of internal logistics during field training exercises and training center rotations. The S-4 should be a willing partner and supported unit of the SPO.THE S-4 WORKS FOR THE COMPANIESIt is easy for the battalion staff to fall into the mindset that the companies work for them. This type of thinking is poisonous and counterproductive. The focus of a staff officer needs to be on making life easier for the supported organizations, which are the companies.The S-4 should do as much legwork as possible for the companies. The companies tend to be more responsive to quick-turnaround requests for information when they feel that they are the S-4's priority. Building great relationships with the companies makes life easier for everyone in the organization and makes work an enjoyable and productive place.I cannot think of a job that could have better prepared me for the challenge of company command. Being the S-4 in a support battalion is a demanding but rewarding position that gives officers the ability to learn all aspects of unit-level logistics.
Capt. Jeff W. Masci is the commander of the National Training Center Movement Control Company and the 171st Movement Control Team at Fort Irwin, California. He wrote this article while serving as the S-4 for the 1916th Support Battalion at Fort Irwin. He holds a master's degree in international relations from the University of Oklahoma. He is a graduate of the Logistics Captains Career Course.
This article is an Army Sustainment magazine product.