Over the past few years, the Army has taken an in-depth look at ground maintenance and equipment readiness. Between March 2018 and August 2019, the U.S. Army Audit Agency (USAAA) conducted an audit of five Forces Command (FORSCOM) armored brigade combat teams (ABCTs). The objective of the audit was to determine if ABCTs maintained equipment within established goals to sustain required readiness levels. The USAAA concluded that all five brigades fell short of these directives and goals. In its final report, the agency highlighted nine recommendations FORSCOM should take to overcome the observed shortcomings. To summarize and outline these findings to the field, USAAA categorized their results and recommendations into four broad-focused areas: mission capability of equipment; command oversight; knowledge and proficiency of maintenance personnel; and protected time to perform maintenance.
In response to the report, the FORSCOM G-4 published guidance to the field in March 2020, directing actions to support ground maintenance requirements identified by the USAAA. The command also established the FORSCOM ground readiness evaluation assessment and training (GREAT) team to provide oversight and an external review of potential challenges that impact readiness within BCT formations. FORSCOM based the GREAT team on the Aviation Resource Management Survey (ARMS) team program and developed it to support the overall FORSCOM Foundational Training Strategy leveraging commander-to-commander dialogue to improve and reinforce the BCT’s multi-echelon training strategy and overall operational readiness.
The team’s fundamental purpose is threefold: provide the BCT commander an indication (evaluate) of where their unit stands relative to Army policies and regulation; gauge (assess) soldier knowledge, training, and ability to execute the BCT’s established standing operating procedures; provide immediate feedback (train) to operator and crews, as well as operations/supply/maintenance personnel. The FORSCOM GREAT team reinforces the Army’s action plan to prioritize people and teams by measuring the BCT’s “interconnected network” of vehicle crews, squads, and logistics teams. To provide the BCT commander actionable information to build from, the team bases its assessment on three functional areas: maintenance, supply, and training. The sub-areas and individual tasks under these functional areas connect directly to Command Discipline Programs, Army regulations, policies, or relevant technical manuals.
The team has conducted six GREAT evaluations since September 2020. In these engagements, the team discovered the following findings and observations.
Knowledge and Proficiency of Personnel. Establishing a maintenance culture begins with individual knowledge, proficiency, and “ownership” of assigned equipment. Reinforcing readiness culture starts with closing the knowledge gap of leaders and Soldiers. Equipment operators/crews struggle to identify all non-mission capable (NMC) faults during Preventive maintenance checks and services (PMCS). This is due to a lack of a well-executed PMCS certification program (knowledge), operator/crew attention to detail (discipline), and inconsistent supervisor review of the DA Form 5988-E (leadership). Commanders should not overestimate the skill levels of young Soldiers and young leaders to execute these basic tasks to standard. Units need to take every opportunity to build proficiency in readiness by incorporating validation and certification programs. Commanders need to tailor programs to the level and skillset required, such as apprentice, journeyman, or master level certification. Finally, units require a properly functioning driver and operator standardization program to build PMCS proficiency.
Mission Capability of Equipment. Proper assessment of equipment readiness comes from leader emphasis and understanding of the Army Maintenance Standard (Technical Manual 10/20) with discipline down to the crew/team/squad level. During GREAT engagements, 34% to 74% of equipment considered fully mission capable by unit personnel had additional NMC faults identified by the team. A significant number of overdue services were identified within Global Combat Support System-Army (GCSS-Army) for each BCT. This is a combination of units not maintaining proper documentation (accurate and complete service packets, posted in GCSS-Army) and not conducting timely equipment services. BCTs lack a standard load test program within their formations and have primary and secondary lifting devices out of tolerance (e.g., material handling equipment, Forward Repair Systems, recovery vehicles). Vehicles with overdue load testing are NMC and should not be overlooked. The lack of a well-established calibration and load test program places operators and crews at severe risk.
Command Oversight. Command Discipline Programs require oversight and follow-up at every echelon. Units have not consistently evaluated their subordinates’ Command Maintenances Discipline Program (CMDP) and Command Supply Discipline Program following applicable regulations. Inspections are not conducted at the required frequency, and the higher headquarters’ follow-up inspections are not documented. Commanders need to review these critical programs within their formations at echelon. These command pro-grams are not just an administrative requirement for logisticians but are vital to combat readiness. Units that operationalize their command discipline programs are the best prepared to accomplish their mission. Additionally, driver and operator standardization programs at the unit level are not per regulatory guidance. The lack of priority, visibility, and accountability for driver’s training causes commanders at all levels to assume unintended regulatory, operational, and safety risks. Maintenance culture begins with driver’s training, where the foundation of PMCS is learned.
Protected Time to Perform Maintenance. The BCTs require a balanced focus on lethality, mastery of the fundamentals, collective training, and maintenance. Although all units engaged by the GREAT team attempted to ‘fence’ time on training calendars to execute supply and maintenance activities, higher priorities took precedence over services, recovery, command maintenance, and dedicated focused readiness periods. Successful commanders reinforced maintenance discipline throughout training activities and not just during recovery or motor stables.
Considering the specific findings from the first six engagements, several trends emerged from commanders who scored highly on the evaluation:
- Supply Support Activities (SSA). Leaders who emphasized efficient processes and effective personnel training in supply support activities resulted in reduced backlog and accurate property accountability.
- Automation. Units that embraced automated tools and technology to conduct supply activities reduced errors and saved thousands of man-hours.
- Standard operation procedures (SOPs). Effective units have established, published, maintained, and executed SOPs. SOPs are the cornerstone of good maintenance, supply, and deployment programs and, when used consistently, codify best practices and reinforce the prescribed standards from BCT to the company level.
- Manuals. Units that have established publication accounts and readily available hard copies of technical manuals and other publications ensure that Soldiers have the most updated information on hand to troubleshoot their equipment thoroughly in every operational environment, whether it be garrison, field, or tactical.
- Excess Equipment Management. Commanders at every echelon who leverage Modernization Displacement and Repair Sites and assigned SSA to reduce the burden of excess equipment within their organizations free up man-hours that would otherwise be spent conducting services and inventory on this equipment.
- Maintenance Management Operations. Effective units intensively manage service schedules for all equipment commodities, including small arms, communications and electronics, power generation, and ancillary equipment. Units optimize maintenance requirements and save additional man-hours by enrolling equipment in the non-combat operations maintenance plans, performing services based on usage rather than time.
- Using Enterprise Resources. Commanders who achieve higher marks use the logistics assistance representatives at their regional Army Field Support Battalion and other available installation resources (i.e., commander’s maintenance evaluation team (COMET)) to close knowledge gaps. These organizations provide 10-level training to Soldiers and build proficiency through extra sets and reps, especially for GCSS-Army training. The local COMET tailors its instruction to meet unit-specific requirements.
- Documentation. High-scoring units maintain documentation as required, such as updating DA 2408-4s (‘gun cards’) for large-caliber weapons. In addition, good units establish and maintain effective tools sign-in and sign-out procedures per regulations. They inspect, inventory, and maintain the Standard Army Tool Set, Forward Repair System, Shop Equipment Contact Maintenance, and all other special tool and test equipment following the applicable technician manual and bill of material.
In addition to shared best practices across the operational force and increased accuracy in reporting at the BCT level, FORSCOM has made a few additional changes to increase the operational readiness across the command.
- Company Leader Training. FORSCOM directed division commanders to include CMDP requirements into company commander and first sergeant training classes and leadership professional development programs.
- Master Drivers. FORSCOM re-energized commanders at all levels on the importance of the master gunner and master driver programs, spelled out in command training guidance.
- Driver Training. Commanders are briefing driver proficiency (not just licensed driver numbers) and driver sustainment qualifying events in quarterly and semi-annual training briefs, as well as key metrics at monthly FORSCOM Logistics Readiness Reviews.
- AMC 101. FORSCOM has directed every brigade-level commander to attend Army Materiel Command 101. This two-day course provides commanders the installation-specific tools needed to leverage the entire sustainment enterprise.
- Shop Stock Initiative. Efforts are underway in coordination with Army Materiel Command to operationalize shop stock within BCTs, standardizing stocked items and reducing the organization's burden. FORSCOM utilizes BCT GREAT engagements to gauge the initiative of this shop stock initiative.
FORSCOM assesses that similarity to the ARMS program for aviation brigades, the GREAT initiative will increase BCT readiness as those commanders leverage the external review to focus on ground readiness, identify gaps, and apply leadership and resources to improve. The intent lies with educating and training leaders at platoon, company, and battalion levels with the overall goal to change the culture at the BCT level to one of maintenance management and supply discipline. This cultural change will lead to an improved world-leading lethal fighting force.
Maj. Christina Harryman currently serves as a maintenance officer in FORSCOM G-4. She has a master’s degree in business admin with a concentration in strategy and leadership from Kenan-Flagler Business School, North Carolina, and has completed military courses such as Operational Contract Support, the Army Strategic Broadening Seminar, and Command and General Staff College.
This article was published in the Oct-Dec 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.