CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar – Army Field Support Battalion-Qatar has come a considerable way since first receiving orders to deactivate back in January 2020.
As one of five battalions in the 401st Army Field Support Brigade, AFSBn-Qatar had a critical mission during the years of relative instability in the Middle East. Even though the mission has changed, with complete deactivation of the organization scheduled for May, the stakes remain the same.
Preceding what is currently being referred to as “Middle East calibration,” AFSBn-Qatar was tasked with receiving, storing, accounting for and maintaining multitudes of combat-ready equipment, known as Army Prepositioned Stocks. At any given moment, the battalion would facilitate the transfer of much needed equipment to units participating in combat operations throughout the U.S. Central Command.
Fast forward to the present, and the operation quickly transitioned from theater sustainment, to speedy exodus.
“As a team, we had to rapidly figure out a unique mission where we took thousands of pieces of individual war stock, and used strategic transportation assets by air, sea, and even cross border movements to relocate all this equipment,” said Capt. Stephen Long, executive officer, AFSBn-Qatar.
The process of deactivating an entire battalion, especially one responsible for supporting two brigades as well as 23 forward deployed companies, is no modest undertaking. For this reason, leaders capable of meeting strict timelines are carefully vetted and selected by the U.S. Army Sustainment Command.
“It was a mission that hadn’t really been done before,” said Long. “We had to quickly figure out how to consolidate and move all this equipment, in theater.”
While much of the Army’s Middle East calibration initiative remains classified, units big and small are doing their part to ensure the U.S. Army Material Command’s strategic expectations are met.
“Our mission here in Qatar has aided the Army by contributing to force optimization, particularly logistics optimization,” Long said. “We’ve returned a lot of items back into circulation for use, as well as optimized efficiency for Army Prepositioned Stock-5 by consolidating assets.
“Our mission has also contributed to the strategic realignment of forces in the U.S. Army Central and CENTCOM areas of responsibility,” Long added.
As one might imagine, moving equipment of this scale in a constrained timeframe involved many moving parts. With a limited staff of Soldiers and civilians, AFSBn-Qatar certainly had their work cut out for them. While the mission was not easy, it was still completed on time.
William Bravo, deputy to the commander, AFSBn-Qatar, described the manner of the deactivation and relocation.
“Our relocation started with receipt of the order to move. We then planned our movement; we coordinated with stakeholders which included contractors, the area support group, Surface Deployment Distribution Command and our sister unit, AFSBn-Kuwait,” Bravo said.
“Next, we determined our funding requirements and coordinated movement within COVID-19 constraints. After that we executed movement which included packing, loading, and convoy to port, all while maintaining readiness,” he added.
Deactivation can be an arduous process for any unit; nevertheless, the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic introduced AFSBn-Qatar to many never-before-seen challenges.
Particularly challenging for the unit was the process of containing the virus while continuing to use “other country nationals” labor. While trying to figure out a safe process to employ foreign contractors, there was a period of 90 days when OCNs were unavailable due to the pandemic.
During those 90 days, the unit’s contingencies included the use of borrowed military personnel and various other labor augmentations from the 310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command.
“As our knowledge of COVID-19 mitigation increased and we figured out ways to safely bring contractors back onto the instillation, we were able to quickly get back on track,” Long said. “However, we faced significant operational challenges in the previous three months.”
In only six months’ time, AFSBn-Qatar’s military and civilian staff have accrued an impressive number of accomplishments.
In the face of a worldwide pandemic, mission readiness and unit integrity never wavered. Even with a considerable reduction in staff, the organization was able to relocate over 1,700 vehicles and equipment, process 2,200 containers, and fully deploy a mobile medical unit to Afghanistan to combat the virus.
“I’d say communication is vital, particularly with stakeholders,” Bravo said about the unit’s formula for success. “Your ability to express what your requirements and constraints are, in a way that gets support from the people you need, is central in being able to accomplishing this kind of mission.”
To learn more about AFSBn- Qatar or the 401st AFSB, visit https://www.aschq.army.mil/Units/401st/