By Chief Warrant Officer 5 Nichole Rettmann, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Erick Gorgol, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Ken Jackson, and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Russ HaddonJune 11, 2018
In the smoldering heat of the Middle East, a team of logisticians toiled and sweat at a remote outpost in support of U.S., coalition, Iraqi, and Afghan elements while conducting train, advise, and assist missions. For 10 days, these combat enablers and many others across the theater went into an automation blackout. This blackout required logisticians to revert to manual supply and maintenance operations while their logistics information systems were transitioned to the Global Combat Support System-Army (GCSS-Army). Converting logistics technology while major combat operations are underway presents operational risk.
This was the mission of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command (TSC), augmented by the 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command (ESC). These organizations accomplished the most complex and challenging logistics automation conversion of the entire GCSS-Army wave 2 fielding. They did this while providing uninterrupted sustainment support to all of the elements across the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility (AOR).
PLANNING FOR CONVERSION
Theater conversion required the leadership of a general officer with GCSS-Army conversion experience. This officer, Maj. Gen. Paul C. Hurley, provided a valuable strategic perspective and spearheaded the cultural change required for subordinate commands and organizations to understand the meticulous planning and preparation required to successfully complete the Army's enterprise resource planning conversion process. Maj. Gen. Hurley, the former commander of the 1st TSC, was no stranger to the conversion process or to what many leaders and Soldiers have referred to as "fly-by fielding."
The 451st ESC led the planning effort to set the initial conditions through a "set the theater" GCSS-Army rehearsal of concept (ROC) drill in July 2016. During that ROC drill, a wave 2 overview briefing generated some very intense moments, discussions, and feelings of discomfort when participants assessed theater requirements from a macro level.
The session highlighted significant shortfalls in the conversion process, which the Project Management Office (PMO) GCSS-Army was not prepared for, mainly because a theater conversion had never been accomplished. Maj. Gen. Hurley was vocal about theater turbulence, operational challenges, and commanders' expectations. A theater conversion had to be carefully planned and executed by the PMO GCSS-Army and the Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) to prevent operational impediments. The war would not stop for a system fielding and neither would sustainment operations.
The initial ROC drill dove deep into operational issues. It gave the PMO and CASCOM a chance to study the theater's unique challenges in order to develop mitigation strategies, work through problem sets, determine a way forward, and provide a back brief at the final ROC drill that was scheduled to be held 120 days before the blackout of U.S. Army Central's (ARCENT's) first fielding group.
During the 2016 ROC drill, Maj. Gen. Hurley shared some lessons he learned from his experience dealing with the wave 1 fielding. He emphasized the need for leaders to be proactive and embrace the Army's transition to GCSS-Army. A combined effort and a series of working groups led to plans for the mission, timeline, and execution strategy for the conversion.
The Logistics Support Activity assigned a data cleansing specialist to assist the 1st TSC with early data cleansing. Based on lessons from the ROC drill, the TSC, PMO, and fielding element representatives by business areas (supply, maintenance, and logistics automation) held weekly battle rhythm working groups. These working groups helped to synchronize conversion preparation efforts.
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2010 mandated that the Army become fully auditable by the end of fiscal year 2017, and GCSS-Army is a key component for the Army Enterprise Solution. With the deadline looming, the ARCENT AOR was one of the final locations for the wave 2 conversion. This area comprised enduring theater units, rotational forces, contracted maintenance activities, and theater-provided equipment (TPE) sets from property offices in both Kuwait and Afghanistan.
Wave 2 conversion for the theater consisted of 14 fielding elements in two fielding groups across nine countries, which were to be converted while they continued to support the major combat operations across the battlespace.
In December 2016, the PMO GCSS-Army at Fort Lee, Virginia, conducted a mock lab to test their solution to convert TPE without Department of the Army-approved authorization documents and link TPE to the assigned organizations for transaction capability. A follow-on lab was conducted in February 2017 to confirm these processes.
As the 316th ESC prepared to deploy and replace the 451st ESC, the 1st TSC planners brought the inbound unit in on the ground level of planning, identified a team of warrant officers, and developed detailed plans to accomplish this complex mission.
Representatives from the 316th ESC were sent forward to the 1st TSC's initial GCSS-Army ROC drill in July 2016. This provided 316th ESC personnel with an understanding of the complexities and gave them a better grasp of the overall mission.
THE FIRST FIELDING GROUP
Fielding group 27, with fielding elements in Kuwait, Iraq, and other remote areas, was the initial test bed for how the rest of the fielding would go. This group and all the units involved in the initial fielding would face more challenges than any other fielding group in the theater. Facing these challenges required intense assistance from the PMO at Fort Lee with a team working alternate schedules to match that of those in theater. The group included both enduring units like the 335th Signal Command and rotational units with TPE from the Kuwait TPE office.
Not many stateside conversions have experienced the level of success achieved in the ARCENT AOR. Structural issues, roles and permissions, and Department of Defense activity address code (DODAAC) realignments continued to impair units deploying into the theater several months after their go-live dates. Several deploying units arrived without the correct sustainment structure and financial sets, causing them to experience significant operational challenges that affected supply chain processes, maintenance support, and property management capabilities.
Upon entry into the theater gateway, these outliers expected rapid resolution to issues (with turnaround times of 24 hours or less) to correct shortfalls from the time of their deployment notification to arrival in theater. The ARCENT and 1st TSC chief warrant officers possessing conversion knowledge clearly understood these observations were preventable, and through hard work and proactive steps, they effectively managed an entire theater conversion. They streamlined lines of effort for force registration of unregistered unit identification codes and approximately 400 added or realigned DODAACs and aligned accurate financial data from the General Funds Enterprise Business System to GCSS-Army. All these efforts ensured units remained on the conversion glide path according to the PMO's milestones.
As part of the mitigation strategy, the conversion team routinely reviewed all conversion templates with incoming units and specialists from the PMO to guide action officers and ensure correct structure was established. This strategy eliminated operational vulnerability and capitalized on previous lessons learned at the tactical level.
The ARCENT conversion team placed significant emphasis on accurate completion and timely submission of critical force element and position templates. Collectively, ARCENT and 1st TSC chief warrant officers at the operational command post had participated in one or more wave 2 conversions and knew exactly what to prepare for to prevent operational disruptions in theater in accordance with general officer priorities, which eliminated the need for damage control. This experience made theater commands optimistic that a wave 2 conversion across multiple combined joint operations areas could be achieved with minimal impacts to readiness.
The key was to establish the sustainment structure. The team was fully aware of its importance, the necessity of accuracy, and the need to support how units were aligned and equipped to fight from an authorization document and nonconventional (TPE and special operations) structure standpoint. Based on lessons learned from previous fielding groups across all components, success was measured by converted units' ability or inability to perform logistics functions once their five-week conversion was complete.
Structural template experts at the PMO provided invaluable assistance for each fielding element in both fielding groups to correct the 3,000-line position structure and other critical templates after hours and over weekends.
THE SECOND FIELDING GROUP
Fielding group 29 in Afghanistan, Qatar, and Egypt faced similar challenges with minor differences and to a lesser extent, thanks to information sharing. The maintenance operations in Afghanistan are mainly contracted, which required additional planning to ensure the contractor's system operators would be able to access the system and perform functions in support of their customers without an issued common access card or military identification card. The solution for this was for contracting officer's representatives to sponsor these contractors in Army Knowledge Online for a .mil email address and issuance of an access token card. This allowed the contractors to access and conduct transactions in GCSS-Army.
The 1st TSC sent team members out in three waves, with the first heading to the remote conversion site for Fielding Group 27 in Taji, Iraq, a week before brownout to assist in site preparation, coordination, and solutions to last-minute challenges. The second wave was sent out at the same time for Fielding Group 29 to assist in site preparations, coordination, and solutions to last-minute challenges.
The third wave was sent out at the tail end of post go-live activities and over-the-shoulder support to assist with solutions to any final challenges that required ARCENT and TSC guidance and to provide some one-on-one and small-team training to system users as an augmentation to the PMO trainers. This team traveled between all three sites as the final effort to ensure successful conversion of all elements was accomplished.
THEATER SYNCHRONIZATION CELL
To head off future structure and access issues, the ARCENT theater synchronization cell concept was developed to work similarly to the Army Enterprise Systems Integration Program, which functions as a central hub for synchronization of Army Enterprise Systems Integration.
The theater synchronization cell's focus was on shaping operations to support ARCENT's campaign plan and the 1st TSC sustainment priorities. The main objective of the theater synchronization cell was to act as a central hub to assist Army commands with force projection sustainment processes ranging from premobilization to employment to redeployment. This cell facilitated the distribution of sources of information to help units see themselves as they prepared for deployment.
Part of rotational forces' reception into the ARCENT AOR includes establishing structural force element relationships within GCSS-Army that are essential to maintaining and sustaining supported and supporting relationships, property accountability, field maintenance, and organizational supply operations. This effective reception, staging, onward movement and integration infrastructure is key to ensuring the success of rotational forces as they enter the gateway.
As the 135th ESC came into theater to replace the 316th ESC, it established the ARCENT theater synchronization cell in cooperation with the ARCENT G-4 and the 35th Infantry Division to identify, reach out to, and assist units from time of sourcing through mobilization to ensure they completed all critical sustainment tasks.
The 1st TSC GCSS-Army conversion team has developed a few tools to assist the synchronization cell and the units, including the GCSS-Army Gunnery, the deployment-redeployment handbook, and the predeployment site survey sustainment checklist. All of these are being reviewed for potential publication by CASCOM.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Nichole S. Rettmann is the 316th ESC and the 1st TSC GCSS-Army theater planner. She holds a bachelor's degree in English and creative writing from Regent University. She is a graduate of the Automotive Maintenance Warrant Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the Warrant Officer Intermediate Level Education Course, and the Senior Service Education Course.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Erick E. Gorgol is the senior automotive maintenance warrant officer for the 426th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). He was formerly the 1st TSC GCSS-Army theater planner assigned to the forward deployed Strategic Operations and Plans team. He holds a bachelor's degree in public management from Austin Peay State University. He is a graduate of the Automotive Maintenance Warrant Officer Basic and Advanced Courses and the Warrant Officer Intermediate Level Education Course.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kenneth R. Jackson is the Department of the Army G-4 GCSS-Army liaison officer for the ARCENT theater wave 2 conversion. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He is a graduate of the Automotive Maintenance Warrant Officer Basic and Advanced Courses and the Warrant Officer Intermediate Level Education Course.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Russell C. Haddon III is the command property book officer for the 316th ESC and was the property book representative on the ARCENT theater conversion team. He is graduate of the Property Accounting Technician Warrant Officer Basic and Advanced Courses.
This article is an Army Sustainment magazine product.