The National Training Center (NTC) provides our Army important repetitions to practice and hone our skills for large-scale combat operations (LSCO). At the very least, it offers a dynamic training environment designed to challenge and stress units in ways that home station training cannot. It is almost as if NTC along with its observer, coach, trainers (OC/T) serve as a mirror which enables units to see themselves in ways that it never has before. While this is powerful and assists in ensuring that units are better prepared for follow-on operations, company commanders often arrive only to realize they have problems that they did not know existed, and have little to no time to fix them. Ultimately, this causes their units to lose valuable training opportunities once they arrive at NTC.The seven questions presented in this article offer Field Support Company (FSC) leaders a chance to look within their organizations and shed light on some of the most common issues facing FSCs, as well as sustainment within a combined arms battalion. By no means are these intended to serve as a survival guide to NTC, but instead serve as a self-assessment for a unit as they plan training, assess their mission essential task list (METL), and prepare for combat operations.Can we do the basics?Functioning in a tactical field environment designed to simulate the complexities of LSCO comes as a struggle for many sustainment units. They are generally placed in a position where they should be technically proficient, however, they rarely have structured opportunities to simulate such combat operations at home station. The massive time, space, and pace that NTC presents generally poses a problem set that many sustainment elements are simply not prepared for. FSCs are generally proficient in areas like maintenance operations or refueling operations because it is what they do each and every day. Contrary to their maneuver counterparts, it is the tactical emphasis that sustainment elements lack which prove to be a major shortfall at NTC.A recommendation for every Soldier is to review the Soldier’s Manual for Common Tasks: Warrior Skills Level 1 (STP 21-1-SMCT). It covers the critical tasks that are often overlooked or forgotten, yet would make each individual Soldier more lethal and proficient in their assigned roles. Thorough, well resourced, and well executed weekly training in each subject contained in this manual would drastically enhance the capabilities of the FSC.Can our sustainment nodes survive?A consistent trend amongst FSCs is a failure to prepare for or even realize that they will need to defend themselves without any outside assistance from the supported task force. One area where this is most prevalent is combining the Combat Trains Command Post (CTCP) with the Unit Maintenance Collection Point (UMCP). These nodes must be both capable and comfortable operating completely independent of the other. In many instances, the UMCP clings to the CTCP often because the UMCP lacks the knowledge or literal ability to defend itself. As the fight pushes on, the UMCP naturally becomes more and more cumbersome and the ability to move it with any relative ease and quickness rapidly degrades.This then leads to a decision point for the battalion or squadron commander: whether the UMCP should remain in place and yet farther from the forward line of own troops (FLOT) to continue regenerating combat power, or if maintenance operations should cease to keep the UMCP and the CTCP together.These decisions would become easier if the UMCP was self-sustaining to the degree that it could operate independent of the CTCP. Often, the FSC typically lacks the weapons platforms or the knowledge base of how to effectively employ them to ensure the survivability of the UMCP.In order to become proficient at defending the UMCP, the FSC must practice it. This goes beyond emplacing weapon systems to provide 360-degree security. It is key to ensure that each fighting position has a means to communicate with the company command post and be capable of sending vital information back to a decision maker. Beyond this, Soldiers must be well versed in the rules of engagement in the event that they are unable to contact a senior leader for guidance. The FSC should reference Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 3-90.5 ch. 5-3, in reference to perimeter defense as well as the defense of a base. In addition to these references, ATP 3-90.5 also serves as a resource for the characteristics of a defense, which should also be taken into account when planning to defend the UMCP.Can we routinely sustain? In emergencies?Sustainment should have a measured degree of predictability. Routines and methods should never become so obvious to the degree that that they become more susceptible to hostile action, but should at least be to the degree where sustainment leaders can set in place work/rest cycles for their Soldiers and the maneuver element can build confidence that pertinent classes of supplies will arrive when and where requested.How do we establish that rhythm? What steps are in place to ensure that convoy operations remain on target and on time for both routine and emergency resupply operations?All too often, the distribution platoons slide into a realm of reactionary sustainment that is hard, if not impossible, to escape from. It starts again with the basics. Logistics package (LOGPAC) operations typically become less and less deliberate. With little to no backwards planning, watered down pre-combat checks and inspections (PCC/PCI), all coupled with less sleep almost always lead to the degradation of sustainment.Something that everyone needs and everyone has, yet few utilize, is a standard operating procedure (SOP). An SOP that is not well refined, yet everyone uses, is far better than a 100% solution that is not well discriminated and no one uses.Where do we place our sustainment leaders?The field trains command post (FTCP) pays huge dividends when manned by the right personnel and when utilized the right way. The FTCP and the person responsible for leading it are the direct link to the brigade support area (BSA) has the ability to ensure their supported battalion receives the right supplies at the right time. The leader that is placed at the FTCP should not be placed there solely based on his or her position. It should be based on their ability to fulfill the roles and responsibilities of the FTCP to standard. Whether it be the HHC or FSC commander, or perhaps the FSC executive officer, it is critical that the FSC commander, who is the senior logistician in the battalion, executes a strenuous battlefield circulation plan. He or she must travel to each node to conduct frequent face-to-face meetings with the battalion or squadron commander to ensure sustainment needs and objectives are being met. This is also to assist with uncovering, diagnosing, and solving complex sustainment issues across the battlefield.Typically seen at NTC is that the FTCP lacks the requisite communication platforms to talk to either the CTCP or their respective battalion main command posts. To further complicate things, the FSC commander, or whomever the FTCP senior leader is, often does not have the ability to review logistics statuses (LOGSTATs). This means that the individual whose sole purpose is to be the link between the BSA and the battalion, to facilitate the proper movement of commodities to the FLOT, generally cannot conduct quality assurance checks on LOGSTATs or talk to anyone else on the battlefield to accomplish this task.This issue is generally exacerbated by the fact that whomever is responsible for the FTCP tends to not circulate, whether it be the headquarters and headquarters company or the FSC commander. This prevents them from being able to participate in any planning or military decisionmaking process sessions. Moreover, they develop a false sense of sustainment success within the prospective taskforce.What is our battalion maintenance battle rhythm?There is a direct correlation between units that are deliberate with 5988 flow, battalion maintenance meetings, and logistics synchronization meetings to the overall operational readiness (OR) rate of combat power within the battalion. As time consuming as it may be to enforce and ensure that Soldiers are conducting preventive maintenance checks and services (PMCS) on their equipment, there truly is no other choice if the battalion intends to remain lethal.What is our 5988 cycle?How are we ensuring that they get to where they need to go? Who is reviewing them? It is generally too late to fix this sort of issue or attempt to figure it out after arriving on ground. These issues must have field-grade level oversight and enforcement to ensure they are done. Many would automatically assume that it falls squarely within the lane of the battalion executive officer to provide field-grade level oversight, however, more times than not, this does not happen.The maintenance culture within an organization has to be built on integrity. An equipment status report (ESR) that is full of faults displays a healthy and fully functioning maintenance program. It then becomes the task of leaders to ensure that when parts are received they are installed in a timely fashion. A maintenance program where there is a general fear or overall dishonesty of what goes on the ESR makes acceptable a trend of falsifying data. The standard you accept is the standard you set. As stated before, NTC serves as a mirror; however, it often serves as an x-ray as well. It will be quite easy to see right through a maintenance program that is exceptional on paper but in reality is rotting from its core.Far too often, a combined arms battalion will enter the rotational unit bivouac area (RUBA) on reception, staging, onward movement, and integration (RSOI) on day one with roughly a 96% OR rate, according to the ESR. After moving via heavy equipment transport (HET) to the western part of the box on training day one, combat power is generally already down to 70% OR rate, and potentially 50% OR rate by training day six. This is because the 96% OR rate was never honest nor accurate to begin with. Once notional kills are incorporated, the unit is quickly rendered combat ineffective.How does the company communicate tactically?Being unable to communicate exponentially complicates even the simplest task. Critical training for the FSC includes a communication exercise (COMEX). The degree at which units visit NTC and have little to no ability to communicate with one another, both internal and external to the company, is staggering. Further complicating this matter is the fact that the task force generally issues orders via a joint capabilities release (JCR) and the FSC is often equipped with JCR logistics (JCR-LOG), meaning the FSC does not receive any information that is classified. Prior to their arrival at NTC, the FSC must conduct a long-range COMEX and ensure that communication equipment is a part of the command maintenance program. In addition, if there is not a standard method of communication (i.e. joint battlefield command-platform, or JCB-P, versus JCR-LOG), the battalion must determine how they will ensure their sustainment element will receive critical battle-related information.A huge portion of ensuring the effectiveness of a COMEX is operating without cell phones. Sustainment often occurs in garrison and is synchronized using a messaging application. In a decisive-action fight, there will be little-to-no ability to use a cellphone; even if there is, the risk will almost certainly do more harm than good. Soldiers absolutely must be comfortable utilizing JBC-P, combat network radios, or other means at home station to ensure they are prepared to communicate effectively at NTC and on the battlefield.How do we conduct rehearsals?The FSC must also conduct deliberate rehearsals. Generally, LOGPAC operations are fumbled through because no one knows exactly what to do once the FSC arrives on ground. If they do, actions are conducted as though they are in garrison as opposed to a hostile theater. A clear and concise SOP and rehearsed steps, of what should happen on the resupply objective, would aid in expediting logistics requirement plans and reduce the overall time on ground. Along with deliberate rehearsals, it is important to ensure that the FSC commander delivers operations orders (OPORDS) throughout the rotation. This ensures the entire company is tracking each phase of the battle and how each individual fits into the plan. This empowers junior leaders and helps the junior Soldiers remain engaged in what is going on.The Center of Army Lessons Learned (CALL) provides a valuable resource for rehearsals at all levels. The Commander and Staff Guide to Rehearsals (No. 19-18) is a must read to ensure that any and all rehearsals meet their intended purpose, and ensure that all participants walk away with a shared understanding of the mission ahead.ConclusionThe intent of this article is to provide thought-provoking quest-ions to shape FSC training in preparation for NTC, and LSCO, as a whole. It is up to the unit, SOP, and training objectives to provide the answers to these questions. Company commanders must make a sincere assessment to ensure their units are prepared to operate in LSCO. It is too easy to attend a quarterly training brief and say what needs to be said to appear exceptional on paper, but literally be untrained and unprepared in basic tasks and skills.Training at a combat training center is a golden opportunity and should be treated as such. It could very well be the last chance to prepare for the unknown.--------------------Capt. Martin Johnson currently serves as an observer, coach/trainer at National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Communications and Broadcasting from Norfolk State University, and a Master of Arts in Business Management from Liberty University.--------------------This article was published in the July-September 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.RELATED LINKSArmy Sustainment homepageThe Current issue of Army Sustainment in pdf formatCurrent Army Sustainment Online ArticlesConnect with Army Sustainment on LinkedInConnect with Army Sustainment on Facebook