The 528th Sustainment Brigade (Special Operations) (Airborne) (528th SB) sustains Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) operations in cooperation, competition, crisis, and conflict to extend the operational reach and maintain freedom of action. The sustainment and support personnel of the brigade enable ARSOF to set conditions for strategic competition and multi-domain operations (MDO) to win future conflicts. These highly trained personnel leverage human networks and relationships, enable commanders to converge capabilities and create windows of positional advantage to enable decisive operations on a complex battlefield. Synchronization is critical to the success of sustainment operations, as it fosters unity of command from the strategic to the tactical level across all warfighting functions to support for Army and Joint Special Operations Forces. The 528th supports ARSOF operations through three organic battalions: 528th Special Troops Battalion, 112th Signal Battalion, and the 389th Military Intelligence (MI) Battalion. The 528th SB leverages small units of action (UA) that rapidly configure and deploy responsive, flexible, and modular teams known as Army Special Operations Forces Support Operations (ASPO) teams supporting global special operations requirements. The brigade also benefits from forward-positioned Army Special Operations Forces liaison elements (ALEs). The ALEs serve as the Special Operations logistics liaison to the Army Service Component Command (ASCC) and the Theater Special Operations Command (TSOC), geographically aligned to combatant commands. ALEs are responsible for coordinating and synchronizing logistics plans and Army common sustainment in support of TSOCs.
ARSOF support professionals from the 528th provide sustainment, signal, and intelligence support at the speed of SOF, enabling those at the tip of the spear to meet ARSOF’s unique battlefield requirements. From its inception as a Quartermaster Service Battalion in 1942 to its modern configuration, the 528th SB anticipates requirements and leverages its people to innovate solutions to provide the right support, in the right place, at the right time.
The 528th SB is postured to support future concepts, including incorporating the requisite demand reduction needed to sustain an MDO fight. The need for demand reduction as a readiness enabler has been highlighted as a key initiative across the entire enterprise to effectively support the joint force in MDO. The Army’s distributed supply nodes will require tailorable, scalable support teams and agile sustainment leaders. These are the same leaders who will continue to innovate to solve tomorrow’s challenges by advancing several tenets key to effectively reducing demand as outlined by Training and Doctrine Command, which will improve our effectiveness and efficiency, help us meet demand at the point of need, improve situational awareness, and lead the requisite cultural change.
To best improve effectiveness and efficiency, the 528th SB aims to operate with disaggregated cross-functional teams that are tailored, scalable, and rapidly deployable. As defined in the National Defense Strategy, irregular warfare “favors indirect and asymmetric approaches” by countries “in order to erode an adversary’s power, influence, and will.” Supporting the Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James McConville’s five lines of efforts, demand reduction must focus on improving effectiveness and efficiency by enabling small units’ ability to innovate in the face of adversity, aimed to increase geographic commander (GCC) and TSOC’s freedom of movement through loosening of the logistics tether. This latitude is focused in three areas: (1) creating a certified pathway supporting multifunctional NCO development, (2) increasing information awareness to influence rapid decision making, and developing relationships with joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational (JIIM) partners, and (3) influencing prepositioned war reserve materiel. The 528th SB supports demand reduction by focusing on the basics to maintain a coterie of highly proficient, forward-deployed sustainers empowered and enabled with the latitude, authorities, resources, and trust to ensure mission success.
Establishing a certified multifunctional development pathway for NCOs supports a small team’s ability to adapt and innovate with changing support requirements. An article published in the November-December 2005 issue of Army Logistician penned by then-Maj. Ronald Ragin on “Transforming Special Operations Logistics” addressed four fundamental missions: Soldier development, SOF-unique equipping, operational planning and synchronization, and dynamic execution. Investing in multifunctional training and immersion in operational planning enables teams to facilitate adaptive execution. ARSOF invests in a certification, verification, and validation pathway validating small, tailorable, scalable teams that increase GCC and TSOC commanders’ operational reach, resulting from reducing the size while maintaining capabilities provided from commodity managers/EMS teams and the Austere Resuscitative Surgical Teams. 528th SB’s ability to continue to support multifunctional training and a tailorable organization postures units to support warfighters competing against highly capable near-peer threats in degraded, contested, and lethal operational environments. Innovative training, proper manning, and modernized equipping are not enough to reduce demands. But, with a nested operational concept, 528th SB projects forces forward while reducing resource requirements that enable freedom of action.
SOF’s global presence requires demand reduction due to the scope of the mission. Supporting UAs globally dispersed on a level equivalent to conventional forces (CF) is expensive, cumbersome, and inefficient. Operating at the speed of SOF compared to conventional Army operations greatly differs at the point of need. SOF requirements are small in quantity, quick in execution, and are inherently decisive in nature. While the 528th SB employs small teams forward, those teams are dependent on many of the CSA’s lines of effort in the context of demand reduction, such as setting the theater through modernization of Army pre-positioned stock, leveraging industrial base modernization to reduce distribution system demand, and sustainment for distributed operations through increased partner capacity and interoperability. For example, reducing the demand of U.S. contractors by leveraging foreign resources and operational and fiscal authorities enables demand reduction by reducing the size and weight of packaging requirements for projection from the continental U.S (CONUS). This concept allows 528th SB teams to surge capacity to assist at the TSOC level with operational transitions, exercises, and other short-duration missions. The ability to surge capacity forward when required demonstrates the difference in support philosophies: SOF’s “just-in-time” vs. CF’s “just-in-case” methodologies. SOF utilizes CONUS-based base operational support or “over the horizon” support to deploy UA’s forward based upon operational requirements. SOF also prepositions equipment while modifying the supply chain to meet demand at the point of need. Supplies and equipment are moved forward into the operating environment where modifications are made before transport to the end-user; therefore, increasing the supply chain’s response time. The ability to meet demand and anticipate requirements depends on a vast human network, enabled by well-positioned sensors that enhance future innovation and bolster situational awareness.
The 528th SB visualizes the competition space in the context of specific mission needs for global sustainment to improve situational awareness. Improving situational awareness to support demand reduction requires both human and technological components. Fortunately, 528th’s core strength is its people and their innate networking capability. The brigade maintains a continuous forward presence with its ALEs and signal support detachments located at each TSOC. The ALEs set conditions and nest with GCC, ASCC, and TSOC planning. These “outstations” have regular engagements with 528th headquarters, the 528th Support Operations Cell’s Global Support Operations Center (GSOC), and the group support battalions (GSB) to share situational awareness. These critically placed personnel build and sustain relationships at the TSOC and link the ARSOF support enterprise into one synchronous entity. Another key benefit of the 528th human network is the shared dialogue of lessons learned during exercises and operations. The shift to MDO, large-scale combat operations (LSCO), and strategic competition requires an intimate understanding of host nation support, Army pre-positioned stock locations, and geography. The 528th’s ALEs provide ASPOs and GSBs rotating into a theater for operation and exercise real-time insight into each of these disparate components.
Integrating technology into sustainment systems will improve situational awareness to make timely decisions and support demand reduction. While human factors will remain paramount, technology will enable commands to realize a real-time common operating picture (COP) in lieu of untimely logistic status reporting. Integrating new technology and artificial intelligence to increase a real-time sustainment COP into the ARSOF communications platforms will include the Systems Integration Office (SIO) within 528th’s 112th Signal Battalion. The SIO analyzes existing communications systems, informs requirements, assesses emerging technologies, and assists with developing innovative solutions to modernize the ARSOF command, control, communications, computers, collaboration, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance architecture. The SIO’s work will enable SOF elements of various sizes to extend their operations by communicating accurate logistical requirements and eliminating unnecessary resupply that potentially jeopardizes the mission.
The 528th’s 389th MI Battalion is the operational intelligence arm of 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne). The 389th increases ARSOF’s situational awareness in MDO, LSCO, and strategic competition through the support of the Information Warfare Center and its inherent processing, exploitation, and dissemination (PED) capability. An embedded intelligence capability within a sustainment brigade supports demand reduction by providing sustainment leaders with accurate, real-time situational awareness that fosters a better situational understanding of the operating environment and rapid, informed decision-making. For example, 389th PED analysis from an unmanned aircraft system, Grey Eagle, presented to an ARSOF commander, can lead to a decisive change in an operation. Rapid changes in operations, fused with the aforementioned communications improvements and live sustainment COP, would allow ARSOF sustainers to tailor support to each UA, on time and on target. The real-time exchange of information reduces the transportation of supplies to an area where they are no longer needed or a quantity that does not match the updated requirement based on the situation.
The 528th SB’s sustainment culture enables operations at the speed of SOF, with an eye toward additional change needed to support future operations in all phases of competition, crisis, and conflict. To support the other aspects of demand reduction, sustainment leaders must champion a deliberate change in organizational culture. Some of the challenges facing the sustainment community include: supporting dynamic small teams forward, enabling teams to operate without constant resupply, and avoiding large immobile stockpiles while leveraging prepositioned resources. The 528th enables small teams to operate and make decisions forward by preparing leaders and creating a culture of trust and accountability adhering to the philosophy of mission command. Flat and fast communication is critical at all echelons of command, understanding that flat communication means creating a shared understanding and sharing information, good and bad, without fear of reprisal. In SOF, trust is the “coin of the realm,” and it serves as the bedrock for the latitude and authorities SOF operations rely on.
Our Army is at an inflection point that demands our logisticians rethink how and by what means we sustain operations in an evolving strategic environment. LSCO, as outlined in 2017’s rewrite of Field Manual (FM) 3-0, and the subsequent FM 4-0, gives us a view of how the Army would fight with our current operating concept (Unified Land Operations) supported by current levels of manning, training, and equipping. The future operating concept, MDO, prescribes a joint operating concept where competition is the steady-state and the desired condition. Escalation includes a rapid response from small teams who communicate, target, and synchronize to create convergent effects at the right moment. The experience of both SOF and CF over the previous 20 years has not prepared leaders for either of these futures. Large fighting formations, extended duration, size of operating bases, dependency on owning supply lines, and medical evacuation within one hour to a higher echelon of care may be relics of the past, either not feasible in LSCO or not suitable for MDO. The 528th SB is postured to lead sustainment of SOF into future competition and conflict while maintaining a vital link with JIIM partners and conventional sustainment formations. Creating a culture of shared learning and unlearning of past techniques will break leaders free from repeating the past or using yesterday’s solutions for tomorrow’s problems.
528th SB’s strength is in our people. These adaptive leaders make up tailorable, scalable cross-functional units of action who leverage networks and relationships to provide options for the supported command. The command and control of these teams are informed by forward-positioned personnel who gain and maintain contact with the problem to provide the rapid and purpose-built capability. This model is forward compatible with MDO, and the demand reduction required to sustain positional and capability advantage, timely response, rapid delivery, asymmetric options, and integrated mobile forces. A change in organizational culture that allows advanced sensors to improve situational awareness will drive efficiencies and effectiveness at the point of need. As part of the joint force, sustainers must develop ways to enable the operational reach, tempo, and speed of escalation between competition, crisis, and conflict now and at any time.
Col. Tavi N. Brunson is currently serving as the commander for the 528th Sustainment Brigade (SO)(A) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He served in operational assignments in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and multiple countries across Africa and the Middle East. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel, the Air Command and Staff College, the Joint and Combined Warfighting School, and the Army War College.
Lt. Col. Robert J. Rowe is currently serving as the deputy commanding officer for the 528th SB(SO)(A) at Fort Bragg. He has served in the 10th SFG(A), 7th SFG(A), CJSOTF-Afghanistan, USARCENT, 2nd and 3rd Infantry Divisions, and the 82nd Airborne Division, and has multiple deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Korea. He has a master's degree in international relations from Troy University, a bachelor's in political science from Fayetteville State University, North Carolina, and is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.
Maj. Joe Colbert is currently serving as the support operations officer for Special Troops Battalion, 528th Sustainment Brigade (Special Operations) (Airborne) at Fort Bragg. He has commanded a Special Operations Logistics Support Element Detachment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the 24th Ordnance Company Modular Ammunition at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
Maj. Jordan Lester is currently serving as the S3 Officer for the 528th SB at Fort Bragg. He commanded the 632nd Support Maintenance Company at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and served as the battalion S3 for 87th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.
Maj. Mark E. Collins Jr., is currently serving as the executive officer for the 528th SB. He is a Logistics Corps officer with over 13 years of experience serving in the 8th PSYOP Group (A), Quartermaster Basic Officers Leadership course (Instructor), 4-160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (A), 3rd Infantry Division, and 82nd Airborne Division. Maj. Collins is a graduate of Georgetown University and the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Maj. Guy E. Reynolds is currently serving as the plans and exercises Officer for the 528th Sustainment Brigade (SO) (A) at Fort Bragg. He has commanded the Service Detachment, 3rd BN, 1st SFG (A) at JBLM, Washington, and served as a Logistics Management Officer for USASOC at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Reynolds has a Master of Science in Supply Chain Management from Kansas University and a Master of Arts in Transportation and Supply Management from American Military University.
This article was published in the Oct-Dec 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.