A U.S. Army Soldier assigned to 710th Brigade Sustainment Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, uses an all-terrain lifter Army system forklift to place a pallet of boxed meals-ready-to-eat on a heavy expanded mobility tactical truck trailer while conducting resupply operations at the brigade supply activity during the brigade Mountain Peak training exercise at Fullerton training area Jan. 22 at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A U.S. Army Soldier assigned to 710th Brigade Sustainment Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, uses an all-terrain lifter Army system forklift to place a pallet of boxed meals-ready-to-eat on a heavy expanded mobility tactical truck trailer while conducting resupply operations at the brigade supply activity during the brigade Mountain Peak training exercise at Fullerton training area Jan. 22 at Fort Polk, Louisiana. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Ashley M. Morris) VIEW ORIGINAL
Army Capt. Edward Raschen (left), commander of Forward Support Company, 891st Engineer Battalion, serves food to his Soldiers during training Dec. 30, 2020, at Udari Range, Kuwait.
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Army Capt. Edward Raschen (left), commander of Forward Support Company, 891st Engineer Battalion, serves food to his Soldiers during training Dec. 30, 2020, at Udari Range, Kuwait. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Luke Wilson ) VIEW ORIGINAL

Success in tactical logistics begins at the home station, far away from the terrain, enemy, and battle. The fight itself begins with you, the leader and Soldier that will be on the ground calling the shots by firing the volleys, traversing the terrain in vehicles, evacuating the wounded, and many other tasks. It requires sophisticated training, communication, and decision-making that may push individuals further than they thought possible. The list of everything Soldiers and units do to prepare for combat operations or deployment is infinite; however, the principles of sustainment in Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 4-0, Sustainment, are indicative abilities that help spell success at every level in the chain of command. Unfortunately, many units and their leaders find pitfalls before and during training, preparation, and execution of tactical logistics. Exactly how to avoid these traps and trends is up to the individual leader and the chain of command, but a winning plan and its procedures are largely driven from home station and the utilization of the principles of ADP 6-0, Mission Command and the ADP 4-0.

Anticipation

APD 4-0 defines anticipation as “the ability to foresee operational requirements and initiate actions that satisfy a response without waiting for an operations order or fragmentary order.” The ability to foresee a supported unit’s sustainment needs begins with the knowledge, a diagnosis of the capabilities of both the supported and supporting unit, and what equipment will best suit that support.

Trending Shortfalls. Units leave behind useful equipment due to:

  • Poor load plans
  • Improper or incomplete pre-combat checks (PCC) and pre-combat inspections (PCI)
  • Lack of training on equipment
  • Perceived uselessness

Avoiding the Pitfall. Know and understand the modified table of organization and equipment. Understanding precisely what equipment the platoon and company have available creates a better understanding of any unit’s intended role in sustainment. Understanding the equipment is essential to knowing its best use, applicability, and shortcomings. Logisticians must anticipate commodity and service requirements for all units and balance them against what the sustainment unit is physically capable of supporting.

To avoid poor load plans, the exercise of load plans is imperative. This includes physically loading every piece of equipment, aligning towed equipment to prime movers, and aligning drivers, truck commanders (TCs), and gunners to equipment. Often units have enough assets but not the qualified personnel to move them. Consider what happens should any one piece (or multiple pieces) are damaged or destroyed. How will the unit recover that vehicle? How will the unit move the vehicle and the assets it is carrying if they are not damaged? What is the contingency movement plan for personnel and equipment with the loss of assets?

Basic individual and leader functions of PCC and PCI cannot be emphasized enough. They are consistently the cause of many disparaging moments for units. Insist and enforce checks on Soldiers and leaders throughout the organization to display all equipment needed for any operation. Frequently overlooked articles of common individual equipment are mission-oriented protective posture (MOPP) gear (especially boots), Rhino mounts, J-Arms, and clear eye protection. The lack of a Rhino mount, the small piece that allows night vision devices to be attached hands-free to the helmet, can strand a convoy if the movement lasts until darkness or limited visibility. Never assume any Soldier or leader has thought through every possible uniform scenario for a training event; it takes a collective effort to ensure packing lists are thorough and completed with enough time for Soldiers to secure items they may not have. It’s imperative to know and check driver’s licenses and qualified training amongst the unit at this stage.

Train on all required or authorized equipment in your unit shipped to an area of operation. The right piece of equipment is there for the unit. Too often, units can overcome a debilitating obstacle, but they lack trained individuals to accomplish that goal. When training, there needs to be a primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency (PACE) plan for individuals trained on the equipment in the likely event of a casualty.

Equipment not being used by an organization does not necessarily mean it is useless. Both decisive action training event scenarios and large-scale combat operations (LSCO) are unlike what many seasoned veterans have witnessed during deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. This complacency with forward operating bases (FOBs) has led to atrophy in the use of equipment. This atrophy often goes unnoticed due to contractor and distribution support to a FOB. None of that support may be available during significant training events or in decisive action, and leaders must anticipate this shortfall.

Integration

Planning and preparing for tactical operations require the full complement of the team effort to succeed. This means combining all sustainment elements to ensure unity of command and effort, the central tenant of the Integration principle of sustainment. Failure to plug into what a sustainment unit’s higher and lateral units are doing manifests little chance for success. Integration requires joint efforts from across several facets of the company/battery/troop and the battalion and beyond. At the company level, it is vital to understand your place and role on the battlefield.

Trending Shortfalls. Proper integration fails by or with:

  • Lack of or inefficiency on communications to include a properly understood and executed PACE plan
  • Focusing on solely a linear concept of support
  • Inaccurate or poor reporting of commodities

Avoiding the Pitfall. From the commander down to the most subordinate junior enlisted Soldier, every unit member should know how to operate and transmit messages via each level of the PACE plan. This includes utilizing Joint Capabilities Release /Joint Battle Command-Platform (JCR/JBC-P) and similar platforms, communicating via FM radio, changing channels on an FM radio, knowing call signs, and understanding how to convey appropriate and accurate information. Often a unit will become stranded or have a severe lack of guidance as soon as they are outside of FM radio range with the company command post (CP). This will not be the case if the convoys can integrate other forms of communication with the CP, such as JCR/JBC-P, or utilize nearby units to help transmit communications on a more powerful platform. When casualty numbers are high, the importance of multiple Soldiers understanding the communication plan and how to reach alternate and contingency forms of communication will ensure a convoy or unit is not lost and directionless.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Unfortunately, a unit may travel further than necessary for resupply, medical assistance, or security without proper integration. By knowing and understanding the array of friendly forces on the battlefield, a leader can ensure they know, at all times, where the closest unit is to provide any necessary commodity or resource. This is especially true for casualty evacuation, where minutes can save lives by meeting at ambulance exchange points or understanding that your organic Role I medical support may not be the closest medical facility. The battalion S-2 or medical common operating picture generates this knowledge and should be consistently updated at the company CP and referenced before any movement. This is also important in planning logistics rally points (LRP) to avoid giving away critical location information to enemy forces by not entering firing locations or company-level assembly areas.

A logistics status report (LOGSTAT) is perhaps the single most important report to ensure a unit does not run out of any commodity or resource and is properly provisioned and resupplied. It is vital that every unit accurately and consistently reports this information to their headquarters so that integration can occur up to the brigade support battalion (BSB) and brigade levels for sustainment support. A leader should maintain and report accurate expenditure and consumption reports on all supply classes to accomplish this. Some classes, such as Class I water and sustenance (like MREs), can be easily calculated ahead of time, and a resupply schedule can be easily integrated into a plan. Other supply classes, such as Class V and VIII, require accurate and timely expenditure reports to assist the forward support company (FSC) and S-4 in calculating resupply times and quantities. With practice, these calculations are completed at the FSC and battalion level, and a unit will avoid sinking critically low on a commodity. However, the reports must be timely, accurate, and complete to be useful. This means that the format for any report must be understandable, standardized, and full of all necessary information to avoid lags in action due to confusion or uncertainty of meaning.

Responsiveness

Even with the best planning and logistical forecasts, the inexplicable always occurs, the enemy has a vote, Mother Nature plays a role, and terrain features will be unforgiving. ADP 4-0 establishes that it is imperative that a unit and commander maintain operational pressure, operating tempo, and extend operational reach as needed to maintain sustainment to the fighting force. No matter the abilities of a unit, some of these incidents are unavoidable; the response to the unavoidable is where units can succeed or fail.

Trending Shortfalls. Units have an ineffective or deficient response to changing requirements by or with:

  • Failing to set, express, or follow priorities of support
  • Lack of understanding or reporting of degraded capabilities
  • Poor communication with higher echelon levels of support, specifically the division service support battalion (DSSB)
  • Not cross-training Soldiers

Avoiding the Pitfall. The finite number of resources on a battlefield requires every echelon of support to have established priorities of support. Commodities and resources are limited, and enemy activities may constrain movement, further hindering sustainment possibilities. The importance of knowing who will receive what commodity and to what extent is paramount to success. By understanding this, the sustainment force can create forecasts with the limitations to inform lateral units and superior commanders. To avoid commanders from constantly making decisions on resupply, a set priority of supply that everyone understands is vital for each commander, especially the ones lower in priority. Both commodity and supply priorities can, and should, change as the mission changes, but publication and dissemination should reach all those involved.

The degradation of a sustainment unit will often go unnoticed until supplies do not arrive in the desired quantities. Understanding the supported unit’s mission and capabilities will help ensure the supporting unit supplies the appropriate mix of commodities and supplies. Understanding and communication by both the logistic unit and their higher echelon are required for decision-making.

An unambiguous plan for support by the DSSB is important. For subordinate echelons, this means forecasting the exact requirement for the next mission set. Receiving exactly what is required can be tricky without a well-informed liaison officer (LNO) knowledgeable of unique types of supplies. Open communication with higher echelons and exact requests filled with pertinent information yield a higher success rate with an available LNO.

Cross-trained Soldiers are an under-used and a necessary aspect for success. The most heavily abused section in nearly all sustainment units is the distribution platoon. Their missions are lengthy, demanding, and never-ending. Cross-trained Soldiers amongst the other sections and platoons make it possible to give those Soldiers a break as prescribed in sustainment principles as avoiding exhaustion for the crews.

Simplicity

The simplest solution is often the best. In the chaos of a multi-domain LSCO, convoluted command relationships and expectations of units readily appear. Simplicity requires clarity of tasks and standardized procedures to prevent indecision by commanders and troops on the ground. Units will often forego the simplistic for the complicated because of uncertainty in their processes.

Trending Shortfalls. When unable to maintain the simplicity of an operation, a unit struggles with:

  • Using mission command principles
  • Contingency planning
  • Standardized sustainment procedures

Avoiding the Pitfall. A clearly defined commander’s intent coupled with the dissemination and understanding of the mission throughout the organization will speak volumes toward a unit’s capabilities and cohesion and encompass three mission command principles. When Soldiers and leaders at every level understand the end state of a commander’s intent, it allows them to exercise disciplined initiative when the battlefield becomes unfriendly, convoluted, and filled with split-second decisions. Failure to grant disciplined initiative to subordinate leaders creates a severe time lag in decision-making, creating complacent Soldiers and units. Building mutual trust, another principle of mission command, is required for this to occur. The only option is to build, refine, and reinforce these principles at home station. Bringing all these principles together are the use of mission orders for every mission required at the unit level. Commanders and leaders should be comfortable creating these orders on the fly and providing them to subordinates to create the cohesion the principles of mission command are attempting to provide.

As referenced in the discussion on responsiveness, the best-laid plans can become nearly useless when the enemy, terrain, or conditions do not favor the plan. Planning for as many eventualities as possible and training on the execution of plans should they occur helps clear some of the fog of war. Planning, rehearsing, training, and discussing any enemy activity helps create centralized planning and decentralized execution within a unit. Loss of vehicles, loss of driver, destruction of ammo, consumption of water resources, alternate routes, loss of communication with higher, enemy contacts of all types, civilian interactions, media interactions, compromise of communications, and organized crime are only a few of the plethora of contingencies that should be considered, planned, and rehearsed.

Applying the mission command principles and the planning for contingencies leads to the standardization of sustainment procedures. When both the supporting and supported unit understands the method, delivery, capabilities, and limitations of sustainment operations, the process tends to move much easier, smoother, and more simplistically. This begins with the supported unit setting out its standard operating procedures on how things are accomplished. Does the unit use LRPs? Cache sites? Who makes contact during rearming, refuel, and resupply point processes, and how? Does resupply requests move laterally or through battalion? How is a resupply of non-organic units reported and requested? These standardized practices make the identification of enemy personnel and movements easier and expediting logistics resupply missions.

Economy

The economy of sustainment is the ability to provide the prioritized resources efficiently to the greatest effect possible. In short, this means there are no wasted movements, space, or time when it comes to sustainment operations. This principle can rely heavily on the proficiency of integration, anticipation, and responsiveness when anticipation fails or becomes inaccurate. With anticipation, a sustainment unit will plan and allocate space and time for a supported unit. With integration, any changes to forecasts or additional needed supplies can easily be communicated to the supporting unit. Then, when all else fails, the supporting unit’s responsiveness to a change can ensure that the opportunity for a sustainment operation is not squandered. The logistician’s goal should be to move everything a unit needs at one time and arrive just in time for the mission.

Trending Shortfalls. Any shortfall in the economy will result in losing a logistician’s most precious resource: time. Prominent shortfalls that lead to the largest inefficient use of time are:

  • Poor mounted land navigation execution
  • Focus on only one class of supply or commodity
  • Ineffective coordination with the supported unit
  • Inadequate preparation of logistics assets between missions

Avoiding the Pitfall. The inability to navigate at night is a frequent issue that a unit faces during sustainment operations. Distances as short as five kilometers can take a convoy more than two hours to travel, simply by making a wrong turn or lacking confidence in the decision to make a turn. The more time a unit spends on the road, the more likely they are to engage with enemy forces. A logistics convoy is typically very large and long due to the size of the vehicles. It is incredibly easy to spot and can lead to casualties, loss of equipment and commodities, and compromise classified communication information, including frequencies and call signs. Secondly, the toll it takes on drivers and TCs being awake for extended periods and the strain on the body and eyes of being in a military vehicle and under night vision devices creates unnecessary strain and fatigue. A third effect is the chances of becoming stranded due to movement past the forward line of troops (FLOT) or ensnaring the convoy in a friendly or enemy obstacle effectively, hindering the entire element. The easiest way to avoid these issues is to train on map reading, land navigation during limited visibility operations at home station. Secondly, conduct route reconnaissance for every movement on a map and, as importantly, check with the battalion S-2 or enemy intelligence reports. This is the responsibility of the battalion S-4 (per ADP 4-0) to keep updated, but the convoys on the ground create a better picture for the battalion. Create a map or directions for the movement ahead of the convoy.

A common infraction is for the FSC to focus on only the one commodity the supported unit needs the most. Poor load plans or poor economic use of haul assets by the logistics element leads to insufficient resupply. The second fault is inaccurate or outdated reports from the supported unit. Accurate LOGSTAT, forecasting at both the supported unit and supporting unit level and using the most efficient haul assets available easily rectifies this concern. Attention to training and communication at home station with each supported element’s executive officer and first sergeant for the best tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) for forecasting and accounting for supply classes will help alleviate much of this strain.

Communication is the key to nearly everything done in the logistics world. The coordination with the unit in both time and space can drastically affect how long the resupply mission takes. Finding and agreeing on an appropriate link-up site and time and adhering to that decision is essential to a smooth process. The area must be large enough to support both units and provide protection through cover and concealment to avoid unintended interference from opposing forces. The TTP of each unit varies in the location and timing of link-up and needs to be clearly understood, expressed, and followed to be successful.

A logistics mission is not complete after the resupply. The preparation for the next mission, whether planned or unplanned, must begin immediately. The priorities of work must be followed to ensure the unit is ready for the next mission. This means staging and refueling vehicles, redistributing Class V small arms as needed, restocking vehicles, making plans for personnel for the next mission, and completing numerous other tasks.

Survivability

Maintaining combat effectiveness and fire superiority is a vital task for any unit maintaining its position on the battlefield. A key aspect of this is protecting all personnel, weapons, and supplies while maintaining the ability to withstand hostile contact with enemy forces and austere environments. Surviving enemy contact is not enough for a logistics unit; they must also minimize disruptions to sustainment to continue the fight. Survivability is not a one-and-done principle; it must be continuously refined to outlast the enemy.

Trending Shortfalls. Survivability must be at the forefront of every Soldier’s mind when conducting operations. Units suffer when they are not considering these things throughout their operations:

  • Continuous position improvement
  • Situational awareness
  • Protective posture

Avoiding the Pitfall. Whether you are staying in a position for one hour or one week, there should be continuous position improvement at that location for the duration of a Soldier and unit’s stay. Improvements in individual fighting positions, increased cover and concealment for vehicles, additional Class IV materials and emplacement, and increasingly in-depth observations of surrounding terrain are only a few of the myriad of survivability tasks that a unit can consistently perform when maintaining their position. Leaders should also consider how far out this position improvement should move. The longer a unit stays in one place the more important it is to know the surrounding areas, use the natural features surrounding the unit, and understand likely avenues of approach and course of action from the enemy. Even with a great defense plan, survivability will be difficult if a unit does not realize the enemy is in the area until they are knocking on the door. Position improvement should also include locations for LRPs. If the logistics unit arrives first, find the best suitable location within the vicinity and set up security measures, and improve the posture, position, and location as much as possible until the resupply is complete. Before any movement or emplacement, a good map reconnaissance with the assistance of S-2 intelligence personnel improves survivability for any unit.

Understanding the training and maintaining constant vigilance at every level is the simplest aspect of survivability. Soldiers need to be constantly aware that the enemy is lurking and waiting for them to become relaxed in their guard and security for the time to strike. Things as simple as wearing night-vision goggles, knowing how to use challenges and passwords correctly, and enforcing their use can be the difference in the enemy being identified before or after entering a unit’s perimeter. Instilling this vigilance in Soldiers takes constant leadership involvement.

Chemical strikes are a real aspect of future combat scenarios. Being able to react to suspected or real gas attacks is important to all Soldiers. Protective posture goes beyond MOPP and incorporates all the other aspects of survivability discussed. A unit’s protective posture is the culmination and combination of its situational awareness, terrain management, and position improvement. Survivability requires maintaining these aspects at a high level through home station training, leader involvement, and Soldier fortitude through the operation.

Continuity

According to ADP 4-0, continuity is the “uninterrupted provision of sustainment across all levels of war.” In simple terms, this means getting the right stuff to the right people at the right time consistently. Although all aspects just mentioned are important, for continuity, the emphasis on consistency is most vital. The link between logistics and operations allows commanders to make informed decisions and opens the possibilities of decision-making. Likewise, the interruption of sustainment can wreak havoc on a plan and friendly elements preventing, delaying, or deteriorating operations.

Trending Shortfalls. Continuity requires standards, discipline, and respect for each other principle of sustainment. To establish and maintain continuity of sustainment, a unit must use:

  • SOP
  • Disciplined Initiative
  • Cross-training

Avoiding the Pitfall. A good unit has an SOP; a great unit uses an SOP. This succinct explanation for an SOP should be enough for most leaders to review their SOP and ensure it is present and understood within their organization. Like the principle of continuity, an SOP must link sustainment to operations and sustainment units to one another. Even in good SOPs, this second piece is often absent. The communication and expectations are delineating from supported unit to supporting unit, but the sustainment aspects of resourcing additional supplies are often absent. From an FSC viewpoint, this means how it will interact with the BSB and the DSSB, if at all. The SOP must be consistent and specific but allow flexibility to allow the next pitfall avoidance measure.

Disciplined initiative is a frequently expressed sentiment both within this paper and throughout Army doctrine. Fully anticipating the dynamic of the complexity of LSCO is impossible. For this reason, subordinate leaders must make mission-critical decisions on the spot without reaching to headquarters. This means that commanders at all levels must convey all pertinent information of the larger mission to subordinates for them to make informed decisions when communication is not possible or not efficient. Without this ability and conviction of disciplined initiative, the professional ingenuity to alter the plan but make the mission happen is lost as soon as continuity or communication is lost between subordinate and commander. Training and trust for disciplined initiative begins with the commander.

As discussed under the “responsiveness” principle, cross-training is an under-used and necessary aspect for success. Continuity is dependent upon mission progression regardless of the personnel conducting the mission. An SOP coupled with cross-training will ensure the mission can continue forward no matter who is present or available for a task. Cross-training also ensures that effective TTPs persist through the organization and don’t die with the departure of an individual.

Improvisation

The explanation of improvisation within ADP 4-0 includes the key phrase, “…involve changing or creating methods that adapt to a changing operational environment.” Improvisation for the FSC is continuous, inventive, and necessary to deal with the uncertainty of LSCO. Most units in the Army, especially in the sustainment realm, have an enormous amount of practice with improvisation. Although improvisation is a key aspect for the success of sustainment, the familiarity with improvisation has caused many FSCs to rely heavily on improvisation at the expense of several facets of planning.

Trending Shortfalls. To best use the principle of improvisation without overreliance, an FSC should:

  • Focus on detailed planning
  • Integrate with operations planning
  • Practice disciplined initiative
  • Train with contingencies

Avoiding the Pitfall. The movement from conceptual planning to detailed planning is often one of the hardest steps for the organizational planner. Simply consider how often an event, training, or meeting had no direction or met a delaying factor that “should” have been planned for. That is often the difference between conceptual, broad strokes, and detailed planning, getting into the multitude of minor details of every mission. To limit the need for improvisation, and therefore the overreliance, get deeper into the details on planning at the company and platoon level.

Logistical planning is nearly always dependent on how the operation is moving. Linked sustainment and operational elements provide opportunities for better planning, resourcing, and an overall better understanding of what is, or will be, needed by the force. Create and sustain this link easily with logistics synchronization, LOGSTAT, and running estimates. Any sustainment element, including the FSC, must be intimately aware of the plans of supported units and prepare to support the next phase of the operation. Frequently the inability to sync with the operational planning results in ad hoc resupply missions, missing timelines, unnecessary movements, and completely missing the supported unit or even venturing beyond the FLOT. All of these can be devastating to a sustainment unit and cripple success.

When improvisation is required, it must be allowed to blossom at all levels. Allowing for improvisation in planning but restricting it at the point of sustainment (i.e., at the LRP or supply point) paralyzes a unit from effective action. Trust in decision-making below the command level must complement a trust in guidance from the subordinate echelons.

Training events will not always go according to plan. Unintended variables create an opportunity to practice for and with improvisation. Contingency planning and executing contingency plans help improve a unit’s flexibility and improvisation. It will stress the effectiveness of other tenets such as detailed planning and cross-training to Soldiers and organizations. To train as we fight, adding a little chaos to the mix of training scenarios, missions, and tasks enhances training and knowledge. The ability to plan for contingencies also requires detailed planning to think through alternate courses of action, which will improve a unit’s resistance to overreliance on improvisation but allow practice.

Conclusion

The list of possible scenarios, pitfalls, trends, best practices, and TTPs for sustainment operations is infinite. Army doctrine gives a sustainment unit guidelines and ideas about sustaining the fight, but it does not tell a unit exactly what to do in any given situation. The only way to prepare for the next war, conflict, operation, or mission is to get out there and practice, train, and prepare Soldiers and units. This article only presented a handful of issues and recommendations for the typical FSC and sustainment unit to consider when planning training, preparing for a combat training center rotation, or readying for deployment. Every logistician should consider the principles of sustainment and utilize them as a foundation for their professional enterprise while exhibiting the tenets of mission command, emphasizing disciplined initiative from the unit.

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Maj. Russell Vickers currently serves as the deputy mobility chief, 8th Army G-4 at Camp Humphreys, South Korea. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a master's degree in Logistics Management from the Florida Institute of Technology.

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This article was published in the Oct-Dec 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.

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