Winning the Future Sustainment Fight

By Lt. Col. Paul Bonano, Maj. Casey Seckendorf, and Command Sgt. Maj. Ruth DrewittNovember 4, 2019

Winning the Future Sustainment Fight
Staff from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, take part in a combined arms rehearsal during decisive action rotation 19-08.5 at Fort Polk, Louisiana, July 24, 2019. The rotation serves to enhance the deployment readiness of 1BCT and sup... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Over the past decade, the focus of Army operations and training readiness has made a clear shift from fighting counterinsurgency to focusing on winning in a decisive action environment. Threats from the growing desire of major regional powers and adversaries to deny U.S. freedom of action and influence in critical areas of the world have forced the Army to adapt and prepare to win against a near peer, highly lethal force. In 2017, doctrine solidified this shift publishing Field Manual (FM) 3-0 Operations, to address the challenges of fighting a near-peer threat and prevailing during large-scale combat operations (LSCO). The sustainment community's ability to adapt our priorities and training focus to win in this highly contested, lethal environment is critical to defeating our nation's enemies.

More than six years ago, the Army adopted the decisive action training environment for use at combat training centers. Since then, our sustainment formations, both brigade support battalions (BSBs) and combat sustainment support battalions (CSSBs), have made substantial progress operating in this highly contested, dynamic, and lethal environment. But there is still work to be done. Leaders in our sustainment formations must first understand what it takes to fight and win in LSCO and then must reprioritize their training plans to tackle this enormous task. So, in the spirit of winning, here are the top four areas recommended for BSB commanders to focus their training plans to master the fundamentals for their crucible event at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) in preparation for the next fight.


One of the greatest challenges observed at JRTC is the BSB commander's ability to effectively command the brigade's sustainment formations and maintain a visualization and understanding of the current fight. A lack of training on and experience with mission command systems (MCS) is often the culprit. But, of course, it is pointless to discuss BSB mission command challenges without first discussing the command relationship between the BSB and forward support companies (FSCs), so let's start there.

There is no 'correct' answer here. On one hand, it is true that dissolving the attached relationship between the FSCs and their maneuver battalions gives the BSB commander the ability to mass sustainment effects at a place and time to achieve the brigade commander's intent. We also know that aligning all sustainment assets under the command and control of a single commander increases the speed at which the desired sustainment effects can be achieved. But what it also does is increase the communication between the FSC commanders and the BSB commander on the battlefield, which ultimately increases the speed of situational awareness, shrinks the BSB commander's decision cycle, and most importantly, increases sustainment responsiveness.

During exercises at the JRTC, FSC commanders struggle on their own with how to task organize their formations between the brigade support area (BSA), the field trains command post (FTCP), and the combat trains command post (CTCP). A wrong move here and sustainment is easily de-synchronized at all echelons. With BSB commander direct oversight, FSCs are getting it right more often.

On the other hand, BSB commanders don't have to own the FSCs to influence them. Yes, relationships matter, and BSB commanders with their staffs must set the conditions early to build those relationships and increase mutual trust. Effective units, regardless of the sustainment command relationships, must train together, manage talent across the BCTs sustainment formations, and inculcate sustainment tactical standard operating procedures. BSB commanders must make building these relationships a priority in their training plans to achieve success.

Now, returning to command and control systems, units and leaders remain challenged with the effective use of logistics information systems (LIS) and (MCS). BSB signal officers and Soldiers have struggled to maintain the battalion's upper tactical internet (TI) systems. There is a clear gap in training proficiency and BSBs tend to fall lower on the brigade priority list for support to their upper TI systems. Brigade combat teams (BCT) routinely rely on voice chat rooms to pass information across the brigade network during combat operations, and when the BSB is unable to maintain their mission command systems, it predictably leaves them with a gap in situational understanding. Some brigades have mitigated this by maintaining their joint battle command-platform (JBC-P) as an alternate (and redundant) means of communicating, but that remains the exception. Signal officers, noncommissioned officers, and Soldiers in BSBs require additional training and opportunities to operate their TI systems.

Finally, BSB battalion XOs and S3s have a tendency to become myopic on the battle array of BSB internal units and fail to adequately battle track the rest of the brigade during both offensive and defensive operations. This leaves a gap in the units' situational awareness of the BCT fight and significantly increases response time to react to emerging requirements, such as a CL V emergency resupply, or providing a timely response to a request for a mass casualty evacuation to a higher level of care. Battalion operations officers, along with their battle captains and NCOs, must be trained and ready to ensure the BSB TOC is capable of maintaining brigade-wide situational awareness to ensure success. Operations officers often fail to realize it is their job to consistently communicate with their higher headquarters to pull information from the BCT S3 to enable the BSB commander to see the fight and identify the sustainment challenges. This backs the BSB into reaction mode and eliminates their ability to anticipate emerging maneuver battalion requirements in both the offense and defense.


Understanding the evolving needs of the BCT in the current and next fight requires a thorough understanding and visibility of the BCT's current sustainment posture. There are three important tools that can help anticipate needs and remain responsive: Logistics status reports (LOGSTATs), logistics synchronization meetings (LOGSYNC), and the logistics common operating picture (LOGCOP). These three pillars work in concert to provide commanders and staffs at all levels in the BCT a shared understanding of their sustainment posture and can ultimately drive critical decision points. Yet units routinely struggle to either understand or maintain one or more of these critical pillars.


A good logistician can reasonably forecast the needs of supported units over a short duration. However, a number of operational variables makes it increasingly more difficult over time without supported unit input (such as LOGSTAT). Having a clear, concise, and easy to fill out document greatly increases the probability that the BSB will receive the report from supported units every day. To ensure accuracy, battalion executive officers (XOs) must be involved in validating reports and synchronizing sustainment with the rest of the war-fighting functions (WfFs). A common mistake units make is to come to JRTC with a very robust LOGSTAT report that tracks all the way down to the number of yellow smoke grenades expended in the last 24 hours by each company, only to find out too late that a LOGSTAT is only as good as the accuracy of the data and frequency of its submission.

When units are restricted to tactical communication systems, it becomes very difficult to get data from across the formation. It is always recommended that BCT S4s and support operations officer (SPO) take an honest look at the LOGSTAT and ask themselves, "What is the minimum amount of information I need in order to be successful?" The best possible LOGSTAT can be scratched out by an infantry platoon leader on an MRE carton and, once compiled, can be sent by the battalion S4 on a single push over FM radio. That may be over-simplifying the problem a bit, but the SPO and the S4 need to realize they have a lot of capable professional sustainers who can be successful with minimal data as long as it is on time and accurate.


Executing an effective LOGSYNC to maintain situational awareness is arguably the single most important imperative to maintaining a synchronized sustainment fight. This daily engagement between the battalions and the BSB SPO is used to validate unit sustainment requirements which drives all resupply operations. Yet there are units who seem to find a multitude of reasons to cancel their LOGSYNC and still others who struggle to get participation due to ineffectiveness. The good news is units who struggle to achieve success here can easily overcome their challenges. Units across the BCT want to feel comfortable that they will not run out of critical commodities at the decisive point in an operation. So a short, targeted LOGSYNC that adds value through predictable sustainment operations and confirms when units will receive their next resupply is extremely desirable to everyone. Here are some tips for success: establish a format that can easily be shared over lower tactical internet mediums such as JBC-P or FM, so units who cannot attend in person or who do not have access to upper tactical internet systems can participate. Then rehearse it until you get it as succinct and as effective as possible, over FM or JBC-P because, at some point, that will be your only form of communication. Finally, execute this critically important synchronization engagement every day at all costs; without it, units become desynchronized very quickly.


Who owns the BCT LOGCOP? Where is it maintained? Can you achieve a shared understanding across the BCT without upper TI? BSBs consistently struggle with maintaining both analog and digital COPs. For digital COPs, the ideal situation is for the brigade and BSB to have a shared sustainment COP that informs both the brigade and BSB commander and enables decision making. The format should be driven by the BSB commander, maintained by the SPO, and shared with all units across the BCT. For analog COPs, the BSB and brigade will most likely have a slightly different version, based both on geographic separation as well as real time access to different information. That's OK, and it can be reconciled as often as needed. Finally, each element of the COP needs to have an owner assigned to collect and update information as necessary and to provide analysis when needed.


In the next fight against a near peer threat, BSBs will be required to successfully defend themselves and sustainment assets without the augmentation of a combined arms force. While units at JRTC have achieved varying degrees of success defending the BSA, there remains a common gap in proficiency among all units with regard to the very basic individual level tasks.

Units lack the basic principles of establishing a unit defense while establishing and enforcing priorities of work. Many leaders and Soldiers within sustainment formations have limited proficiency with crew-served weapons, anti-tank assets, and Air Defense Artillery (ADA) assets. Their experience with emplacement, capabilities, limitations, and shortfalls of each system in establishing BSA security is minimal. Units and leaders are challenged establishing a BSA defense and defending against a Level I threat. Soldier skills and NCO tasks such as building fighting positions to standard, developing range cards and sector sketches, developing and de-conflicting fields of fire, establishing wire obstacles, camouflaging equipment to standard, implementing a sergeant of the guard to enforce discipline and to ensure Soldier's remain vigilant and alert to pull security, and the use of terrain to facilitate a good defense have rarely been observed. Units do not develop work/rest cycles for guards, which leads to fatigue and complacency. This often makes the BSA a "soft target" and disrupts sustainment flow throughout the brigade.

Units consistently demonstrate a lack of proficiency with crew-served weapons. Those Soldiers assigned M2s, M240s and M249s are generally proficient, but the remainder of the formation is clearly untrained. This becomes a significant challenge when Soldiers are wounded, on a rest cycle, or performing their primary MOS functions. Additionally, units fail to train for or plan on defeating an armored or air threat, and most disregard the AT-4 and Stinger equipment allocations issued to the BCT during RSOI operations. Anti-Armor and ADA weapon systems remain largely afterthoughts.

Leaders at all levels lack the basic principles of engagement area (EA) development--which is neither trained nor prioritized. Units fail to understand the benefits of wire obstacles and how to tie them into their defense plan. Wire obstacles rarely evolve to more than a single strand of concertina wire, and few leaders know how to properly emplace triple strand wire obstacles. Units often task the HHC commander to run a base defense operations center (BDOC) but fail to identify division of responsibility between the BDOC and S3 which causes confusion. Additionally, most HHC commanders and first sergeants lack the experience and knowledge of the key tasks to run a BDOC. While they successfully accomplish the basics (360 degree security and a minimal communications plan), their failure to incorporate EA Development, establish listening posts/observation posts, establish a reconnaissance and surveillance plan, or establish a communications plan between individual fighting positions, entry control points, sergeants of the guard, BDOC, and battalion TOC, leads to BSA defense failure against Geronimo's professional army.

All of these tasks must be trained and well rehearsed during unit training at home station prior to arriving at JRTC. The goal here at JRTC is to ensure leaders and units are ready for war now, and it will help units get to the next level, regardless of training proficiency upon arrival. But arriving without a basic understanding of these tasks significantly hinders the unit's opportunity to take proficiency to the next level.


Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 4-90 tells us that the role of the BSB is to support the brigade's execution of operations by providing logistics support. However, most BSBs have not truly trained and rehearsed the execution of that mission during LSCO. BSBs often do not have the opportunity to rehearse the echeloning of sustainment support, from the CSSB, through the BSB, FSC, and, finally, to the company until they get to JRTC. To truly stress the BSB's systems, it requires the entire BCT and the CSSB to participate in a BCT or above level operation. Any opportunity to maximize these opportunities during BCT level training events should never be missed. At home station, it is too easy for FSCs to go to the garrison water point, fuel point, ammunition supply point and resupply themselves during training, eliminating the need to synchronize with the BSB SPO during maneuver battalion training exercises. Units who enforce a strict sustainment support structure, from the Division Support Area through CTCPs during home station training do markedly better here at JRTC than those that do not.

The concept of support is, by far, the biggest challenge brigade support battalions have during their rotations. Given the BCT's short planning timeline and the amount of parallel planning conducted at every echelon, the concept of support is often desynchronized with the brigade's maneuver plan. It is imperative that the SPO, the BDE S4, and the BDE S3 logistics planner all stay closely synchronized to ensure the framework of the concept of support is built around the maneuver plan. Under the supervision of the BSB commander and BDE XO, the concept of support also needs to include the BDE Surgeon and BDE S1 in order to build a cohesive sustainment plan. This all seems very straight forward, but all too often a BCT receives a division order 96 hours prior to execution and everyone immediately retreats to their comfort zone to plan their part, resulting in a poorly stitched together and often infeasible sustainment plan. While the ground distribution plan is generally well executed, units routinely fail to maximize the use of aerial resupply methods due to low proficiency and a lack of training in sling load and Low Cost/Low Altitude air drop operations.


Too often it seems sustainment rehearsals are an afterthought. At most, units will have one decent rehearsal prior to the first phase of the operation, but subsequent rehearsals fall off significantly, both in content and participation. One of the main contributing factors is the lack of time between the brigade's OPORD and the execution of the mission. In a dynamic environment such as JRTC, this is completely understandable, however, units often attempt to conduct sustainment rehearsals without the depth of detail needed to achieve a shared understanding. In order to have effective sustainment rehearsals, units should identify the critical pieces of information that need to be understood across the BCT. At a minimum, topics should cover the brigade's sustainment distribution plan, location of key sustainment nodes, CASEVAC plan, location of medical and command and control nodes, route statuses in the AO, and timing of any external resupply, especially aerial delivery in all phases of the operation, to include during transitions. As a general observation, the level of brigade leadership involvement seems to directly correlate with the effectiveness of the rehearsal. If the BCT commander is there, it will almost certainly mean battalion commanders will be there, which means the right people can ask the right questions.


Synchronization does not exist between the BCT engineer and the brigade engineer battalion (BEB) to build an SOP for CL IV pre-configured loads in support of the BCT defense, which creates friction for the BSB to establish an effective distribution plan. While maneuver battalions often fail to identify their CL IV requirements for the defense more than 48 hours in advance, BSBs often fail to anticipate those requirements and fail to prompt the brigade engineer or BEB to set an SOP for pre-configured loads or to call forward enough CL IV to meet last minute requests from the rest of the BCT.

Success at both JRTC and in the next fight depends heavily on the training plans set by the BSB commander. All operations must be trained and rehearsed, and the lessons each organization learns must survive organizational leadership transitions. Too often a unit comes through JRTC well trained and led to fight and win during LSCO, only to see the same unit return 24 months later, with new leadership, and a sharp drop in proficiency. As depicted in figure 1, when SOPs that are not passed on over time units are forced to remain focused on overcoming the science of operating in this environment. This does not allow units to rise above the common pitfalls to elevate their thought processes to the operational art of warfare. The BSBs ability to operate in this rigorous, realistic, and relevant environment heavily depends on preparation. All units should visit the CASCOM Sustainment One Stop website and, specifically, their sustainment virtual playbook for more on each of these topics and more.


Lt. Col. Paul Bonano is currently assigned to the Joint Readiness Training Center, where he serves as the Senior Sustainment Observer Controller Trainer. He holds a Master's Degree in Public Administration from the State University of New York at Albany. He is a graduate of the Unites States Army Command and General Staff College.

Maj. Casey Seckendorf is the Brigade Support Battalion Executive Officer Observer Coach Trainer for the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, Louisiana. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science from the University of Arizona and has completed the Command and General Staff College, Combined Logistics Career Course, and the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course.

Command Sgt. Maj. Ruth Drewitt is currently assigned to Fort Polk, Louisiana, as the Joint Readiness Training Center, Operations Group, Task Force Sustainment Command Sergeant Major Observer Controller Trainer. She holds a Master's in Business Administration from Excelsior College. She is a graduate of the United States Army Sergeant's Major Academy and the Basic Airborne Course.


This article appears in the October-December 2019 issue of Army Sustainment.

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