By Maj. Thomas KnotheJanuary 16, 2020
The role of an advisor is not to redefine the host country's existing systems and practices, but to enable the host country's army to become more effective through using their own systems. This is especially true for Iraq in the logistics field. The Iraqi Army's (IA) logistics operations and procedures are vastly different from that of the U.S. Army's. The U.S. Army made the decision to deploy portions of the Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs) to Iraq to help train the IA and assist them in their ongoing sectarian war against the Islamic State group (IS). The SFAB's objective for the sustainment warfighting function is not to transform the Iraqi system into the American system, but to enable offensive operations through the building of partner capacity. In order to do this advisors must first build relationships with their partnered force, learn all the intricacies of the Iraqi Army's logistics system at multiple echelons, and prove to the partnered unit that including their advisors in their decision making process will add value to the organization.
The first and most critical phase to advising is building relationships with the partnered force. Logisticians typically have multiple counterparts as the IA heavily compartmentalizes logistics operations. The IA has separate senior officers and staff sections for requisitioning parts, overseeing maintenance operations, and managing supplies. Relationship building is extremely important to Iraqis as they genuinely want to get to know those they meet on a personal level before they discuss business. Initial engagements normally involve discussing families and backgrounds while having chai, fruit, and drinks. The Iraqis pride themselves on being extremely hospitable, and often times insist on providing their advisors a quality meal if the discussion is taking place during lunch or dinner time. A dish the Iraqis commonly serve is kabobs which includes: steak, chicken, lamb, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, rice, and flatbread followed by watermelon or plums with chai or lime tea later in the evening. It is normal to not discuss work related topics at all during a first engagement, and only after discussing families and other non-work related topics on subsequent engagements. Once they feel like they understand their advisor's capabilities and motives, they will then begin discussing their unit shortfalls and the ways they would like assistance. The IA are generally glad to have their advisors on the team and are eager to receive our help in most cases.
However, a significant hindrance to building relationships and maintaining continuity of operations is the IA's leave system. Every IA soldier takes one week of leave every three weeks, and when travel days are factored in they are typically away from work for nine out of every 21 days. This does not include the numerous holidays they observe and Fridays being light duty days. The IA accounts for the leave cycle among leaders by assigning two officers to each position--a primary and a deputy. However, the constant switching of personnel results in additional difficulty during current operations and establishing long-term relationships. This system also slows down day-to-day processes because the primary officer is the one with signature authority and major operations rarely occur while the primary officer or commander is on leave. Most advisors use the time their partner is on leave to travel back to their designated U.S. compound to refit. This is a good time to file reports, catch up on administrative requirements, get laundry done, and conduct physical training. It also enables the advisor and their IA counterpart to pick up right where they left off upon their returns to the IA camp.
The IA takes a much more centralized approach to the way they conduct sustainment operations than the U.S. Army. For instance, there is only one person in the entire IA that approves Class IX (CLIX) requests (a major general in Taji), and the approval process alone can take several weeks to complete. This results in vehicles and equipment remaining non-mission capable for extended periods of time. To expedite this, maintenance leaders frequently purchase parts on the local market rather than use the supply system as intended. The Iraqi Ministry of Defense (MoD) provides each division headquarters with a monthly budget--currently $700--to make local purchases due to the many inefficiencies within the supply requisition process. Each division has an "Electrical, Mechanical Engineer" (EME) (usually in the rank of brigadier general or colonel) whose job is to procure repair parts and report the division maintenance readiness rates. All parts requests from the division and subordinate units are routed through him and he submits requests to the national EME using the IA's 101 form. The form 101 is a generic demand form that units use to request all classes of supply to include major end items. If the national EME approves the parts request, he routes a letter of authorization back to the unit and the unit will travel to the national supply warehouse in Taji (this can be a 7-hour drive from some divisions) to pick up the items requested. If the national EME disapproves the request, the unit does not receive a response and doesn't know why the request was disapproved or if the 101 form even made it the national EME.
The division EME lives and works inside an organization known as the "Battle Factory", which is where mechanics perform all maintenance and services. Each division has its own battle factory but battle factory personnel are not organic to the division they support. Battle factories typically have a maintenance bay and are well equipped with tools (mostly provided by the U.S.) but maintain only a very small number of bench stock parts on hand to repair vehicles and equipment immediately. Battle factories do not have supply support activities (SSAs) and are forced to rely on the national supply warehouse or making local purchases for all of the repair parts.
In addition to maintenance, fuel is also an extremely controlled commodity managed from the top down. The MoD provides a certified check to the EME to take to the nearest refinery to purchase fuel. The amount of the check varies based on the number of vehicles assigned to the unit, and if they report them as operational. The IA mechanics often times state that the fuel they purchase is poorly refined and leads to further maintenance problems. The unit can request additional fuel for a combat operation, but the approval process is lengthy and their real time intelligence doesn't afford them the opportunity to wait for its arrival. This results in the unit reallocating fuel away from other future directives or purchasing it on the local economy like they do with repair parts.
Logistics advisors at the division level and below can help overcome many of these sustainment related challenges for their partnered unit by utilizing the advisor network at the national and MoD level. When an IA division EME submits a 101 form for repair parts, it is the logistics advisor is responsible for notifying the advisor team at the national supply depot that his partnered unit submitted the supply request, provide as much information about the requirement for the parts as possible, and to follow up in order to make sure it gets processed. The national team then assists their IA partners with processing the request, reducing the timeline, or reporting back as to why the national supply warehouse denied their request. This will provide the requesting unit an opportunity to correct the problem and resubmit the request. An added layer of complexity and substantial increase in processing time stems from that fact that the bulk of these requests occur through an "official letter" rather than an email or other automated system. The EME produces and signs the request for repair parts and the G4 signs the request for an increased allotment of fuel, food supplies, or ammunition. Normally divisions send all official letters and correspondence to the MoD or other higher headquarters buildings, which in most cases is hundreds of miles away, once per week by assigning a Soldier to drive them.
The Combat Advisor's Training Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, teaches advisors that the way to overcome partner-based challenges is to help them utilize their own systems. The SFAB is not equipped to provide supplies and equipment directly to their partner forces, but is equipped to connect the loose ends within their existing system to achieve the same effect. It is important that advisors stick to the areas that they can influence. For instance, there isn't anything an advisor can do to enhance the quality of the fuel the IA are receiving. However, advisors can increase CL IX accessibility by working with other logistics advisors to ensure the requests are getting filled.
Advisors from every warfighting function must demonstrate that they can add value to their partnered organization. If a partnered organization believes that their advisor is not enabling them to accomplish their mission, then they will stop sharing information with them and including them in critical decisions. In addition to providing real, tangible results it is important that logistics advisors continuously update their partners with the status of their requests, and the actions occurring outside of the organization on the unit's behalf. This will help build trust between the advisor and their counterparts.
Advising is much more of an art than it is a science as there is not just one correct method of executing it or single precise answer for every circumstance. The science portion of advising is seen through learning and understanding a partnered unit's specific requirements and capabilities. The bulk of advising involves adjusting to your counterpart's personality and reading the situation before acting. The art of relationship building involves frequent authentic positive interactions and timing. There are times that a counterpart will have too many things going on to meet, and it is important that advisors do not try to force an engagement.
It is also critical that advisors never agree to provide their partner with anything outside of their means to provide. For example, when IA partners asked the 2nd SFAB to laterally transfer them three heavy equipment transporter (HET) trailers so they could move some housing units from their old base to their new base. The SFAB is not authorized HET trailers on its Military Table of Organization and Equipment, and Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) is no longer resourced to transfer vehicles between the forces. The 2nd SFAB overcame this challenge and added value to the partnered organization by sending a request through the advisor network to utilize the IA's National Transportation Brigade to move the housing units. Even though the SFAB was unable to fulfill the request of giving the partner unit three HET trailers, the SFAB was still able to solve the underlying problem.
Once an advisor makes a commitment, their counterpart will continue to ask about its status during follow-up engagements until the obligation is fulfilled. If the advisor cannot provide what they promised, they have instantly lost all their credibility and their counterpart will no longer look to them as a trusted agent. The key to victory when it comes to advising the IA is achieved through overcoming adversity, remaining dedicated to the mission, and small victories that build upon each other. Progress is slow and success will not happen overnight, but it will happen by maintaining a resilient mindset and remembering that the SFAB's objective is not training the IA to become better American soldiers, but to become better Iraqi soldiers.
Maj. Thomas Knothe is executive officer, 6th Battalion, 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade. He served as an advisor to Iraq during a seven-month deployment. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College and Combat Advisors Training Course. He holds a bachelor's degree from Auburn University and a master's degree from Trident University International.
This article was published in the January-March 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.