By Command Sgt. Maj. Michael A. GrinstonJanuary 2, 2019
From 2001 until today, the Army has gone through extensive changes in sustainment operations on everything from doctrine to tactics. There is no denying that forward support companies (FSCs) are relied on to provide full-spectrum logistics support to their assigned maneuver battalions to sustain unified land operations.
A shared understanding between the supported operational unit and the supporting unit must exist to create unity of effort. When supporting and supported elements collaborate, sustainment synchronization is easy to facilitate.
For operational units to be successful, they depend on the support provided by brigade support battalions (BSBs) through their FSCs. The support the operational units receive permits them to concentrate on their missions with minimal distractions.
Overall mission accomplishment remains achievable by emphasizing constant communication and teamwork. A few critical elements of sustainment are mission command, mastering the fundamentals, and leader development.
THE ART OF MISSION COMMAND
According to Army Doctrine Reference Publication 3-0, Operations, mission command, as a warfighting function, "assists the commander in balancing the art of command with the science of control, while emphasizing the human aspects of mission command." A warfighting function is a group of tasks and systems (people, organizations, information, and processes) united by a common purpose that the commander uses to accomplish missions.
Command of FSCs and BSBs often test the art of command. According to Field Manual 3-96, Brigade Combat Team, the BSB commander assigns and commands FSCs. There are clear lines of command, but the picture becomes blurry when you start looking at the daily duties and operations of FSCs.
The FSCs conduct daily operations, perform administrative functions, and do most of their critical sustainment tasks with the maneuver units they support. For example, when maneuver battalions have command maintenance formations, the FSCs are a part of the formations.
The BSB must understand that an FSC's priority for meetings and engagements is its maneuver battalion. A common understanding between the BSB and the maneuver battalion alleviates any misconception of loyalty between the FSC and the BSB.
The commanders' ability to practice the art of command versus relying on organizational structure promotes a healthy and successful climate. We are all on the same team, and it takes a team to fight on today's ambiguous and ever changing battlefield.
A vignette from a mission readiness exercise conducted at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, highlights a key principle often overlooked while practicing the art of mission command. During a rotation, a brigade continually received reports of one maneuver company running out of meals ready-to-eat (MREs).
The BSB command sergeant major (CSM) stated that the FSC had just resupplied the unit with five days of rations less than 24 hours before, and he could not understand why the unit kept reporting that they did not have food. The brigade CSM went to investigate the situation to determine the problem. It was an issue of shared understanding.
Two days before, a rocket had hit the unit's containerized kitchen and destroyed it, leaving the unit with no option other than MREs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The FSC had delivered one MRE per Soldier per day instead of three on the assumption that the feeding plan remained two hot meals and one MRE for lunch. The BSB CSM, the maneuver battalion CSM, and the FSC first sergeant missed a principle of mission command--create a shared understanding.
MASTERING THE FUNDAMENTALS
Mastering the fundamentals of sustainment is truly a team effort. According to Field Manual 3-96, the sustainment synchronization matrix and the logistics status (LOGSTAT) report initiate and maintain synchronization between operations and sustainment functions.
Many units have not mastered the art of the LOGSTAT report and often report green (100 percent) on a commodity and then an hour later report black (less than 50 percent) on the same commodity. This hasty green to black situation prevents sustainers from anticipating the necessary classes of supplies and creates delay and frustration within sustainment operations.
The quick fluctuation of reports indicates the need for and importance of logistics synchronization. A properly executed logistics synchronization meeting will provide accurate data, assist the unit with analyzing its logistics requirements, and enable the anticipation of future requests.
After 15 years of counterinsurgency sustainment support, we have lost the skills to conduct logistics resupply operations. Relying solely on the unit's abilities to move freely and conduct resupply internally results in supply point distribution, picking up supplies directly from the brigade support area (BSA). Because the BSB conducts so few logistics release points (LRPs), the distribution company's transportation platoon is underused.
Getting back to the basics and conducting LRPs enables communication, creates a clear common operational picture, and enables sustainers to conduct physical "hands- and eyes-on" inspections to see what units actually have on hand. The leader engagement conducted during the LRPs also facilitates anticipation; leader dialogue promotes foresight within sustainment operations.
Mastering the location of the command team is also critical. The FSC command team must ensure it has the right leader in the right spot at the right time. A battle can be won by placing the right personnel and equipment at the right place in time.
Selecting the proper Soldier or leader will provide maximum operational reach and optimal logistics support by effectively organizing sustainment operations across all echelons. An analysis of talent management will help the FSC to decide who and what to place at the field trains command post, combat trains command post, and BSA, and in turn, enhance the unit's overall effectiveness.
In addition to implementing proper logistics synchronization, sustainers must focus on leader development. First, the maneuver battalions and BSB CSM need to agree on which leader development forum the FSC command team will attend. One course of action is to separate the commander and the first sergeant and send them to two separate forums. The outcome is beneficial for all parties involved.
The FSC command team needs to be a part of two formations and know how to sustain its own unit and its supported battalion. Effective FSC command teams are able to visualize and interpret the unit's training calendar in order to propose courses of action that allow maneuver commanders to train more efficiently. By separating the command team, leader development will happen with both battalions, providing a better understanding of operating procedures.
Developing the FSCs' first sergeants is paramount to synchronizing maneuver battalion and BSB leader development across echelons. Maneuver battalions expect their FSC first sergeants to be masters of their craft--true professionals who remain extremely confident and competent in all aspects of the unit's transportation, supply, maintenance, and food service support.
For maneuver units to be successful and able to execute their combat missions, FSCs must be multifunctional and led by experienced, knowledgeable noncommissioned officers. When fellow first sergeants need advice or have questions regarding logistics support, they can turn to the FSC first sergeant.
Mentorship is vital to the professional development of FSC first sergeants. For FSCs to be successful, lines of communication between the BSB and its FSCs must be open and easily accessible. Since FSCs are assets on loan to maneuver battalions, communication must be clear and continual among the maneuver battalion, the BSB, and the FSCs.
The ability of FSC command teams to seek mentorship and guidance from their respective maneuver battalion and BSB support channel will promote and stimulate professional development. Creating professional development opportunities through monthly or quarterly leader professional development meetings and terrain walks for all senior enlisted sustainers serves as a great opportunity to enhance the development of senior leaders.
There is no finer place to strengthen leader development than at a combat training center. Combat training centers place leaders and systems in stressful situations, pushing each leader to maximum capacity. An ambiguous operational environment tests the physical and mental agility of all Soldiers as they battle an unrelenting enemy force in unfamiliar territory.
Below are a few recommendations from the Joint Readiness Training Center's observer, coach, trainers that will enhance the overall effectiveness of FSCs.
• Attend and participate in brigade and battalion combined arms and sustainment rehearsals. Ensure the sustainment plan is synchronized with the tactical plan.
• Monitor and assess the brigade and battalion logistics common operational picture. Ensure sustainment areas (such as the BSA, unit maintenance collection point, field trains command post, combat trains command post, and forward logistics element) are known, accurate, and synchronized.
• Monitor and assess the brigade, battalion, and company LOGSTATs to ensure they are known, accurate, and synchronized.
• Monitor and assess the flow of brigade, battalion, and company equipment and maintenance inspection worksheets. Understand the impacts and trends as they relate to generating combat power.
• Forecast unit sustainment needs based on tactical tasks. For example, units performing movement to contact require fuel and ammunition, while units performing defense require construction and barrier materials.
• Monitor and assess lines of communication. Assess associated risks to Soldier and mission distance, routes, terrain, and security.
• The BSB CSM should monitor and assess the brigade and battalion medical common operational picture to ensure medical assets, role I and role II locations, and the ambulance exchange point are known, accurate, and shared.
"Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics." This has been a saying around the military for a long time.
Of course, you can debate the relevance of this statement, but you cannot deny the fact that an element that cannot sustain itself will not have the operational reach necessary to fight against a near-peer adversary.
As leaders, we have to understand logistics mission command, master the fundamentals of logistics, and provide appropriate leader development in our FSCs. Freedom's Guardian, Always Ready!
Command Sgt. Maj. Michael A. Grinston is the senior enlisted leader of the Forces Command.
This article was published in the January-March 2019 issue of Army Sustainment.