Logistics units are the square peg to the Army’s round hole, repeatedly hammered into an operations process developed for maneuver and fires units. Logistics units have several organizational constraints imposed on them by the current force structure and doctrine. The first is that support battalions lack a field grade S-3 and operations sergeant major (SGM). Instead, these units rely on a captain and master sergeant who may or may not have had company command and first sergeant time. Second, support battalions have two separate operations cells, the orders producing S-3 section mentioned above and the non-orders producing support operations section lead by a major as the support operations officer (SPO) and another master sergeant as the NCOIC. This can lead to a disjointed operations process where companies conduct actions communicated to them through logistics support requests generated by the SPO team. At the same time, the S-3 is unaware of these actions, resulting in overtasking as the S-3 continues to generate internal battalion tasks. Support battalion operations would be better understood and executed if there were a consolidated operations cell led by a field grade officer with support from an operations SGM.
Placing the correct people in the correct job and ensuring stability is an excellent way to solve any organizational friction. This process has led to units establishing cycles where field grade officers remain in position for one year before rotating to a new position, many times in the same battalion. Current doctrine does not support this construct in support battalions. Human Resources Command does not fill this position directly and does not track it as a key developmental position. The result is many captains coming directly out of stressful company commands do not see the S-3 as a worthwhile job. Based on move cycles, the S-3 may rotate several times a year and at times must be filled by a pre-command captain. Furthermore, no matter how senior, these captains are not Command and General Staff Officer Course graduates and not adept at the military decision-making process (MDMP), a process they are supposed to lead.
The problem of having a junior officer in the S-3 position is not different from the NCO perspective. While a master sergeant possesses more experience, the position suffers the same longevity issues as the S-3 in that the NCO is generally awaiting a first sergeant billet. The S-3 NCOIC lacks experience with MDMP, operations at the battalion level or higher, and is not a graduate of battle staff. These factors lead to turmoil and varying levels of expertise, causing the support battalion operations process to remain crude and in constant turmoil.
In a maneuver battalion, there is a single operations officer who is responsible for directing all the actions of subordinate units to meet their battalion commander’s intent. In a support battalion two such officers exist; one to support the battalion commander’s intent and one to support the brigade commander’s operations. Many times these two priorities require extensive resources to synchronize. An example could be if A Company needs to run a small arms range to maintain proficiency. Simultaneously, a line battalion requires fuel support and augmentation of several additional M978 fuel trucks to support an exercise, this action is in line with the brigade commander’s intent and results in a logistics support request published by the SPO. Ideally, these operations are nested and synchronized, but there is no formal process to ensure the two sections communicate.
The SPO is the heart of support battalion operations and can readily absorb the day to day operations of the battalion utilizing the S-3 as a subordinate staff officer. Currently, the SPO is tasked with planning, coordinating, and synchronizing sustainment in the brigade’s area of operations. Doctrine acknowledges that the S-3 is separate from the SPO but should closely coordinate with them as the SPO is “fundamentally part of brigade support battalion (BSB) operations.” Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 4-90, Brigade Support Battalion, states, “The SPO and his staff develop significant portions of the BSB operation, warning, and fragmentary orders. The SPO provides information to support the development of the BSBs mission and execution paragraphs to include commander’s intent, concept of operations, scheme of movement, and tasks to subordinate units.” This is essentially all of paragraph 3 of the operations order, which is akin to how the operations process works in maneuver battalions.
The 3rd BSB tackled this problem in a twofold manner addressing both process and people to integrate the operations process. First, the command had to solve the personnel issue, which through quick action and a little fortuity was solved when the 3rd Infantry Division received several prepositioned SGMs directly from the Sergeants Major Academy. The command was able to have a SGM sent to the battalion who was placed in the battalion support operations cell. Second, the command took the opportunity to unite the two operations cells into a single entity where the SPO, a major, became responsible for all internal and external unit operations. This combination was not without issue initially and cycled through several iterations before solidifying (see figure). Once the correct people were in place, the unit was able to develop a coherent orders process that enabled the battalion to execute operations with minimal disruption caused by three separate S-3 and two S-3 NCOIC transitions in an eight-month period.
By focusing on personnel placement, the battalion commander ensured the support battalion’s operations process was refined and codified. This further enabled him to utilize the SPO’s more than two years of schooling and division-level experience to ensure the orders process was streamlined while still meeting the brigade commander’s and his intent. This was done by utilizing the SPO planner as de facto deputy responsible for plans and developing brigade concepts of support to be published in brigade orders. These concepts of support were then passed to the battalion S-3, who acted as a future operations officer, and integrated the battalion internal operations into the concept of support before finally moving to the current operations officer (CHOPS). The CHOPS and the SPO SGM became an integral part of the process to ensure all plans and immediate requirements were incorporated into daily tactical fragmentary orders.
It is the author’s assertion that support battalion operations can be better understood and executed across the Army if the two changes tested by the 3rd BSB are adopted into the current doctrine and force structure. The first change is consolidating the S-3 section under the support operations officer, thereby creating a single, consolidated operations cell. The second is placing an operations SGM in this consolidated cell to provide support and subject matter expertise throughout the operations and orders process. Enacting these two changes will increase the coherence of and place support battalion operations on par with the operations cells in adjacent units. The author acknowledges this solution requires the support battalion SPO to be viewed as a battalion staff officer who supports the brigade and not as a brigade staff officer. However, the author maintains that based on current doctrine, the support battalion SPO should already be viewed in this manner.
By focusing on people and processes the support battalion can whittle some of the corners from the square peg and better fit into a maneuver centric operations process. The inclusion of a field grade officer and operations SGM is invaluable in providing currency at the brigade level and stability in the heart of the battalion’s operations process. By combining the two operations cells into a single entity, the unit gains a coherent process with fewer miscues and canceled training due to overlapping tasks and miscommunicated priorities. By streamlining the orders process, the support battalions can enable subordinate companies more predictability in their training calendar and enable company commanders to better support both battalion and brigade training objectives.
Maj. Jason Phillips currently serves as the 3rd Brigade Support Battalion support operations officer. He has earned degrees from North Georgia College and State University, American Military University, Air Command and Staff College, and the School of Advanced Military Studies. He has also completed the Theater Sustainment Planners Course at Fort Lee, Virginia.
This article was published in the July-Sept 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.