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During the 10th Sustainment Brigade’s training and planning phase leading up to the unit’s deployment as the Single Sustainment Brigade in Afghanistan, an area we focused on and planned for was the challenges associated with the synchronization and execution of mission command. Commanding forces across the entire country of Afghanistan located on 25 various forward operating bases  were areas we understood would be a challenge. Other challenges include long lines of communication, enemy regional differences, U.S. and coalition partner differences and sustainment support infrastructure differences. These challenges were apparent as we developed our road to war training plan and this ultimately became the units’ priority throughout the brigade’s train-up and culminating training event (CTE).

Through the use of rehearsal of concepts drills, leadership professional development sessions, mission analysis, execution of commander conferences, and confirmation briefs by all subordinate battalion command teams helped reinforce mission command across the formation. The brigade consisted of five subordinate battalions and 49 company and detachment level units consisting of 2,960 Soldiers and 3,845 contractors operating in an environment the size of Texas.

Mission Command

The art of mission command as defined in ADP 6-0 describes “mission command as the exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders in the conduct of unified land operations.” Distance and dispersion of units required mature communication infrastructures and mission orders to enable subordinate commanders to operate in a decentralized environment. Clear and concise mission statements with lines of efforts that are nested two levels up to include a defined end state coupled with tasks that are measurable and understood two levels down are essential for commanders to operate in an environment that the brigade operated while deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). As the single sustainment brigade conducting sustainment operations across six regional commands this dispersion required commanders to operate within a defined commander’s intent while empowering units and commanders to operate under the disciplined initiative command philosophy.

An integral part of all major operations is the ability to provide clear and concise orders that are understood two levels down and nested two levels up. As part of our task organization, a vital component with ensuring that subordinate units understood the commander's intent, key task and end state was our ability to have a shared understanding across the command. Complicating this effort is the rotation of units throughout the deployment cycle and ensuring those units are nested with the brigades plan. Communicating this via the brigades orders brief, commander conferences, battlefield circulations and leader professional development sessions became our task with ensuring commanders numbering as high as 49 company and detachment size units were provided with a common framework. Starting with the publication of the command mission statement, key lines of effort and tasks and with a well-defined end-state became the commands information operations campaign.

Brigade Coordination Cell

Previous phases of OEF starting in 2007 consisted of having two sustainment brigades providing tactical sustainment support on a regional basis. As part of Operation Drumbeat and in line with decreasing force management levels the theater starting in 2013 decreased from two to one sustainment brigades. Operation Drumbeat began in June 2012 and ended in December 2014, as part of the transition from Operation Enduring Freedom combat operations to Operation Resolute Support. The 101st Sustainment Brigade set the conditions during their rotation by assuming control as the single sustainment brigade in theater in December 2013. Upon our transition in February 2014 the 10th Sustainment Brigade would then assume the tasks with synchronizing sustainment and supporting the retrograde mission across all six regional commands.

During our pre-deployment train up and planning phase the analysis indicated for the establishment of a forward support operations element in Regional Command- South headquarters located in Kandahar to mitigate the redeployment and downsizing to one sustainment brigade. More importantly this initiative allowed the brigade to remain nested with the RC-S Commanding Generals’ priorities; during our tenure we supported 4th Infantry Division and later 1st Cavalry Division. The design and intent for this entity was to have a forward presence to ensure we remained responsive and able to anticipate requirements. The makeup of what we called the brigade coordination cell (BCC) consisted at first with an O-5 (lieutenant colonel), warrant officer, intelligence NCO, and electronic warfare officer. This makeup would change toward the later stages of the deployment, but intent never wavered with providing responsive sustainment support to our teammates located in the western and southwestern part of Afghanistan.

The BCC embedded itself within the Combined Joint Task Force-1 CJ4 operations cell and became part of their everyday battle rhythm and key advisor to the deputy commanding general of sustainment for the division. In addition to providing operational sustainment oversight, the BCC also synchronized efforts with our down trace units located in regional commands South, Southwest and West. Although this cell is not a doctrinal approach nor was this cell a command and control element, this entity allowed our support operations section to have a forward presence and coordinate sustainment requirements across long extended lines of communication.

Operational Construct

Another key component with ensuring we remained nested with our supported units meant building relationships both internally and externally to the logistics community. Close coordination with our higher command, both 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command and 1st Theater Sustainment Command was vital for the brigade and allowed us to concentrate our efforts at the tactical level. In addition, and even more important was attending events hosted by our supported division commands. Understanding and anticipating their requirements meant investing in personal resources (people and time). This meant attending battle rhythm events and critical working groups such as the protection and sustainment working groups. Operational and strategic coordination with our sustainment enterprise partners is just as important and must start early in the process. Our relationship with Army Material Command (AMC), Defense Logistics Agency(DLA) , and Surface Deployment and distribution Command (SDDC).

Synchronizing sustainment support and coordinating the retrograde of equipment and material required units to understand the brigade’s key tasks and end state to accomplish our mission while remaining nested with six separate regional command priorities. We used the Army’s six principles of mission command to guide the brigade through the process with synchronizing efforts across the CJOA-A.

The six principles of mission command are:

  • Build cohesive teams through mutual trust.
  • Create shared understanding.
  • Provide a clear commander’s intent.
  • Exercise disciplined initiative.
  • Use mission orders.
  • Accept prudent risk.

Developing a close working relationship with our logistics enterprise counterparts meant providing them with space in our tactical operations center and providing them with a platform to advise and assist the brigade’s sustainment effort. Incorporating elements from AMC, DLA, SDDC enabled the brigade to meet all operational requirements while conducting a deliberate drawdown of commodities across the area of operations. Going into our mission we knew the importance with shaping and influencing outcomes while ensuring all agencies understand the tactical and operational sustainment requirements.

Setting the Conditions for Transition

Part of the drawdown meant balancing the brigade’s core mission of sustaining the force while setting the conditions for transition. This meant over a 9-month period the brigade conducted sustainment and reverse supply chain operations starting in January 2014 through November 2014; managing the deliberate drawdown of logistics commodities, human resource and finance nodes while not compromising operations. This required rehearsing the drawdown plan, coordinating the plan with the sustainment enterprise and reinforcing this plan to our customers.

In total, the brigade closed 58 of 63 sustainment nodes, retrograded 673 TEUs of multi-class supplies back to the Army material enterprise; reduced the number of ASL lines from 51,609 to 9,100 lines across the theater resulting in closing six SSAs over a 9-month period. Drawing down human resource and finance operations meant closing static sites and conducting expeditionary support through Postal Rodeos and Financial Management Support Teams.

For this plan to succeed this required a deliberate marketing campaign plan with senior leaders across the CJOA-A to reinforce the continued support of their formations while decreasing the amount of sustainment nodes in order to remain on approved drawdown timelines. Communication and messaging was the key element during this phase and the brigade conducted an aggressive marketing strategy across the sustainment enterprise.

Closing

Drawing down a theater in Afghanistan across multiple regions affecting numerous units was not an easy task. Executing expeditionary and reverse supply chain management are concepts taught, but rarely exercised and in this case put into motion. A term we used to reinforce this mindset was coined, “Expeditionary Sustainment In, Expeditionary Sustainment Out.” Transitioning to expeditionary sustainment is necessary to a deliberate drawdown plan. The 10th Sustainment Brigade along with close coordination with 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command and 1st Theater Sustainment Command to include the entire sustainment enterprise enabled for a responsible and deliberate drawdown while sustaining forces across the CJOA-A.

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Retired Col. Willie Rios III served as the commander of the 10th Sustainment Brigade while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom XIV in 2014. The article is an extract from the unit’s lessons learned and Reverse Collection and Analysis Team (R-CAAT) brief to CASCOM in December 2014. He is a retired military officer and currently employed as the Deputy G4 for U.S. Army North. Rios possesses a Master Military Arts and Science degree from U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

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