CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — First Team battalion- and brigade-level command teams throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility assembled here for the 1st Theater Sustainment Command Commanders Conference Feb. 21-23.
Maj. Gen. Michel M. Russell Sr., the commanding general of 1st Theater Sustainment Command, hosted the event to foster unity and spark collaboration among the leaders of the 3rd Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade, the 408th Contracting Support Brigade, the 1109th Theater Aviation Sustainment Maintenance Group, the 401st Army Field Support Brigade, the 595th Transportation Brigade, the 326th Financial Management Support Center, and the Area/Regional Support Groups from Kuwait, Jordan, Iraq and all their subordinate battalion command teams as well.
The units collectively provide logistics capabilities throughout the theater in support of CENTCOM objectives. For many of the leaders present, the conference represented the first time they had the opportunity to meet for face-to-face collaboration.
The conference kicked off with a dinner, followed by a day that included informational briefs about the current operating picture and planning sessions dedicated to determining how the organization will achieve its future goals.
“We have to make sure we walk away from this session today knowing we can do everything we talked about,” Russell said on day one. “We all have to collaborate, validate and confirm, and then we’re going to move into execution.”
“Battalion command teams, you’re the ones that are going to be at the tactical level, closest to the fight,” the general continued. “I invited you all here because you have to understand what is going to be expected of you.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Michael J. Perry III, senior enlisted advisor, 1st TSC, echoed Russell’s opening day comments.
“This conference started last night, so a lot of you sitting in the room enjoyed a first-class meal, and that was a great opportunity for fellowship,” Perry said. “What I would encourage us to do throughout the next day and a half while we’re all here is to build upon those relationships, formally and informally."
“I think that will pay huge dividends with the team moving forward and the shared understanding that the CG keeps talking about,” the senior enlisted advisor continued.
The final day of the conference was focused on people. The leaders focused on multiple topics impacting resilience, including suicide prevention, promoting physical, emotional, social, family and spiritual growth, and developing healthy leadership models.
Russell said it is critical for senior leaders address their own wellness so that they are fit to provide for the wellness of their Soldiers.
“Yesterday was the science of leadership, today is the art,” Russell said. “I want us to understand what’s going on in our own lives, how we’re expressing ourselves, how we are seeing ourselves and others, and then learn some different techniques from one another on how to make our formations healthier.”
The commanding general led several discussions, including a discourse focused on how personal biases directly impact a leader’s ability to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion in their units.
“While we’re going through this bias presentation, I’m going to ask you to do self-reflection, think before you speak, and have an open mind, because this whole piece is going to be about provoking thought,” Russell said. “Take it for what it is and internalize it, turn it into something that benefits you and your organization."
“Our wellness transcends not just those who wear this uniform; it should transcend back to your personal life," the general continued. “We have to have a total wellness.”
Col. David Key, commander of the 3rd DSB, said the commanders conference was valuable on many levels.
“Number one, it gave me an opportunity—and it was a timely opportunity—to sit down with my counterpart who I’m transitioning with right now and establish a baseline of knowledge,” Key said. “Number two, it was an opportunity for all of the commanders to get together, interact with each other, and add some shared experiences that we can use in the future to build on our camaraderie."
"And number three, it was an opportunity to flatten communications across the entire command to understand what the future of what we need to do in the theater is, and what direction we need it to go in,” he continued.
Key said the most meaningful experience during the conference was the opportunity to have dinner with his counterparts and the other battalion commanders in the formation.
“It was an opportunity to put a face to the name, and sit down and talk to them about who they are and what they do, and have a personal conversation with them,” he said.
Command Sgt. Maj. John P. Hembree, the senior enlisted advisor of the Fort Totten, New York, based 389th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion, said attending the conference provided him the unique opportunity to hear directly from the 1st TSC commanding general and his staff, and to visualize the mission, operations and people that comprise the 1st TSC from a new vantage point.
“The dialogue provided a different perspective of what we are doing here in Kuwait, how it is impacting the warfighter, and how we are connected to the fight,” he said.
As Key shared, Hembree said the most valuable part about the conference was interacting with the other command teams and learning about who they are, where they come from, and what they are doing in the area of operations.