It’s time for the weekly brigade maintenance meeting and the support operations (SPO) section is preparing by reviewing the equipment status report (ESR). “Sir, here’s another long lead time part. Looks like almost six months before we’ll get it,” the maintenance tech says. The officer-in-charge (OIC), with a yet another exasperated look, exclaims “Six months? For what?" “Sir, it’s a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) fuel cap." The OIC shakes his head, makes a note on his ESR, and the team moves on.
If you’ve worked maintenance in SPO sections, and other higher level units, you can probably recognize the truth in the previous vignette. You’ve also likely asked the question, “Why do some parts take so long to arrive?" These are the ever-present “long lead time parts” that are the bane of every maintainer and supplier. This article is based on my time as a SPO OIC and identifies the ways leaders in my unit found to address that question.
Ultimately, there are indeed parts that will take months to get. However, our experience was that many parts that display long lead times on the ESR can have those times significantly improved through action at the unit level.
Getting Things Right in GCSS-Army
Our first indication that getting a part was going to be an issue was from seeing an extraordinarily long projected estimated ship date (ESD). As an example, we had parts that would show ESDs of 2025 or 2027, which, if true, would indicate a serious problem at the enterprise level. Instead in these cases, the owning unit conducted the necessary research and found that the current order was tied to an old document number (e.g 2015 or 2017). Once the first unit identified this, they shared that information with maintenance leaders at the weekly maintenance meeting. As these issues arose, the units worked with our supply support activity (SSA) team to find and clear the old document numbers.
At other times, we would notice that a document was not ‘rolling over.’ This is a key step in the order continuing to process. Typically, we allowed up to two weeks for a part to get ordered, pass through the ZPARK and release strategy (RS) steps in Global Combat Support System–Army (GCSS-Army), then get processed at the SSA or pushed out for ordering from another source of supply (SOS), and ultimately see the ESD. We identified that some parts were sitting in a “71” status, often for weeks, even though the ESR showed that parts were on hand at the SSA. Some of these delays were due to circumstances beyond our control, e.g. orders placed in one fiscal year getting filled in the following fiscal year, but in the interim there had been a price change which prevented the release of the part.
More often, the fix was action that we could take at our level by looking at overdue deliveries at the SSA. Our SSA team found that many of these parts were not rolling over because there was a part due-in that was overdue. In some cases these overdue deliveries were years old, going back to the unit’s conversion from the legacy systems of Property Book Unit Supply Enhanced, Standard Army Maintenance System-Enhanced (SAMS-E), and Systems Authorization Access Request to GCCS-Army. Essentially, GCSS-Army acknowledged the new part having been ordered but identified an inbound part, and was waiting to match part to order. However, the vast majority of these parts would never arrive (or likely already had and had never been properly closed), which caused unnecessary delays in restoring equipment to fully mission capable (FMC) status. The SSA team, working hand-in-hand with experts in the local sustainment brigade, was gradually able to clear these overdue deliveries and improve ESDs.
Lastly, we found that errors involving old faults also created long lead times. We focused on deadline-producing faults, pulling the appropriate information from GCSS-Army based on our predefined parameters for the ESR. If we removed our parameters and pulled all possible information (e.g., all fault types or all options for mission-capable status), we found a high number of old faults that had never been properly cleared. To illustrate the point, our typical ESR with only deadline faults was 30-35 pages; the “everything” ESR was over 300 pages. Those old faults negatively impacted our ESDs by allowing the system to think that a part was on hand. Unfortunately, that part was a “phantom part” that was not actually on hand and had been installed on a vehicle months or years before. Since it had been issued against the fault already, we couldn’t even see these phantom parts on our shop stock listing (SSL). To the system, this looked like we had a part on hand to install on a deadlined piece of equipment, which triggered a downgrade in the priority of our current order.
Owning the Ordering Process
Next, we were able to positively impact our long ESDs by addressing our internal ordering process. With assistance from our division headquarters and our local field support battalion partners, we found orders that should have been ordered as priority designator (PD) 02 were being ordered as PD 05 or PD 12. In some cases this happened as the order hit the queue at the SSA and shifted to a lower priority based on SSA stockage. More often it was a mistake at the equipment repair parts specialist (ERPS) clerk level. This wasn’t an indication that our clerks were deliberately making mistakes. Instead, we needed to improve our training and oversight. Our maintenance leaders at the battalion and brigade levels worked diligently to monitor the ESR and address those lower PD orders, immediately. To our chagrin, sometimes we did miss one or two, and it was identified by our division teammates, but this was one of the many areas where our warrant officers and noncommissioned officers shined. Their training programs and constant situational awareness with every open order quickly knocked these orders down and kept them to a minimum.
Confirming the correct PD allowed us to properly communicate with suppliers beyond our SSA and reinforced our requests for assistance with the enterprise level. For example, we would request that a part be expedited only to find out that it was in a low-priority designation. To the system, this makes it appear as if we do not need the part immediately and another unit receives the part. As a caution, this solution requires discipline. Units must not default to simply ordering everything as PD 02, as this clogs the supply system with parts that really should be PD 05 or PD 12.
Beyond verifying the correct PD, we also found that clerks were failing to put in the correct required delivery date (RDD), or no RDD at all, for deadlining parts. Again, if we state that a part is high priority but put an RDD of six months later, the system and the item manager have to assume that we really don’t need the part immediately. This was another factor in creating situations where we unnecessarily delayed parts.
Within our brigade, my maintenance technician worked with the division G-8 to create specific fund codes that varied based on the part being ordered. Even though this was a short list, we still had clerks ordering parts with the wrong fund code or no fund code at all. We attacked this in two ways. At the brigade level, the leaders conducted training. In the few cases where it was warranted, we instituted written counseling to coax people into compliance.
Lastly, we had challenges with our national stock numbers (NSN). Sometimes NSNs change, but this is relatively infrequent. More often, we found that many of our technical manuals (TM) in use (electronically stored on our maintenance support devices (MSD) were several versions obsolete. This meant that clerks were unable to find an NSN or were ordering under an old NSN, and then getting the associated cancellations or delays. Units can prevent this by working to keep their MSDs up to date with the latest TMs. Maintenance leaders can also sign up for alert notifications from the Army’s online TM repository. This allows them to receive updates any time there is a change to a given TM.
GCSS-Army Revisited – Making Experts
The third critical element in our ability to impact parts shipments was in improving our overall knowledge of GCSS-Army. Our unit was several years past its conversion from the legacy systems, so we had to shift our mindset away from “We used to be able to do this in SAMS-E,” and move toward embracing GCSS-Army. Initially, many of the clerks and junior leaders were more well-versed in the techniques and lingo than we had assumed. Subsequently, we found that it was actually those of us at the more senior levels that were resisting, and as a group we had to move beyond that. Assisting us in that effort were Army-wide courses like the GCSS-Army Middle Manager’s Course, the system’s End User Manual. Locally, our division headquarters created a monthly “LOG U” to train leaders and share knowledge.
Another part of our ‘making experts’ effort was to expand the role of our sustainment automation systems management office (SASMO) team. We charged them with becoming our resident GCSS-Army experts. They readily took on the role and became responsible for authorizing users and roles, conducting local training, and assisting with submitting help desk tickets. They were able to determine if a given situation was a training shortfall or an actual system problem. They quickly proved that they were value-added. They also assisted with reconfiguring GCSS-Army handheld terminals, which allowed units to be more efficient with picking up parts at the SSA and allowed us to have better record keeping, both of which improved our ESDs.
Across the Army, logisticians continue to work toward mastery of GCSS-Army and become experts with the system. As you’ve seen, there are a number of ways to improve your unit’s ESDs by addressing how you use and maintain GCSS-Army. Unfortunately, it’s likely never going to be a “one and done” learning process. For our unit, when we received the forward element of the brigade back from a combat deployment, we encountered new GCSS-Army headaches. As property books were merged, old work orders started to appear and unit leaders again had to stay vigilant to minimize the negative impacts.
While our ideas solved some of the problems, there is still work to be done. Not every long lead time part was the result of our misunderstanding or misuse of GCSS-Army. Six months or longer to get a part was common due to unique, low-use parts that were not stocked at the national level and had to be obtained by a contract. This required time for bids, manufacturing of the part, and finally shipping the part to the unit. There has to be a faster process.
Returning to the HMMWV fuel cap in the scenario from the beginning of the article, we can actually order a replacement fuel cap off of various internet sites and have it on hand in less than a week. I’m not suggesting that online shopping sites become an SOS, but the Army must develop a better solution than the current contract-based timelines. One way is to stockpile, though many of us are averse to that. There are arguments for and against this method. But as we saw in the civilian sector during the COVID-19 crisis, just-in-time logistics does not work with rapid increases in demand. In the Army, we do not have the luxury of accepting the failings of the just-in-time concept.
Maj. Eric Shockley currently serves as company commander for Argo Company, a logistics advisor company in 6th Battalion, 4th Security Force Assistance Brigade, based at Fort Carson, Colo. Previously, Shockley served as a brigade combat team support operations officer-in-charge and battalion-level executive officer. He holds a master’s degree from the United States Naval War College.