Camp Bondsteel logisticians critical to mission success in Balkans
CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo – Soldiers and employees of the Area Support Group – Balkans, Supply Support Activity, stand outside their office building at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, March 24, 2022. The SSA is responsible for supplying much needed logistics to all Army units throughout the Balkans and to units serving with the NATO-led Kosovo Force. (Photo Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Warren Wright, 138th Public Affairs Detachment) VIEW ORIGINAL

CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo (Oct. 25, 2022) – Logistical support has been key to mission success in any military operation since the dawn of warfare. Throughout the centuries, military commanders have known in order to keep moving forward and to be effective on the battlefield, their Soldiers must have the supplies they need to win the fight.

Keeping the mission moving forward for the U.S. Army in the Balkans region of Eastern Europe are the Soldiers and civilian employees of the Area Support Group – Balkans’ Supply Support Activity, located at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, who work tirelessly to ensure units have access to the supplies they need to be successful.

“Whatever supplies a unit needs, they would not have it if it wasn't for the SSA,” said Capt. Ryan E. Smith, the officer in charge of the SSA. “The SSA really just provides sustainment support to any supporting units within the Balkans. That's really the baseline. And it's providing all classes of supply to those units.”

The various classes of supply provided by the SSA include food, water, office supplies, oil and lubricants, construction materials, and repair parts, to name a few. Most of these items are stored at the SSA warehouse as safety stock, so sustainers can rapidly allocate supplies to the units that need them.

Smith said stock requirements are tracked through higher-level supply management systems and use predictive analysis to forecast the future needs of organizations, a process that is reevaluated to ensure supply needs are up to date.

“Depending on how much (a unit) orders in a year, our safety stock will rise or fall depending on the (unit’s) requirements,” Smith explained. “And what happens once we go below that safety stock, (the system) automatically reorders to fill those gaps.”

At the SSA, Smith’s team primarily consists of civilian employees and contractors, many of whom have been there for years.

“That’s the way we’re set up,” Smith said. “We have contractors, we have local national hires, which are NATO employees, and we also have two green suiters (Soldiers). So, it's a conglomerate that all work together very well.”

In addition to U.S. units stationed in the Balkans, the SSA also provides limited support to some partner nation units serving under the NATO-led Kosovo Force.

“We provide class I support, MREs and bottled water, to the Swiss and Turkish contingent, and water to other contingents,” Smith said.

“We also support non-supported units as needed. For instance, there was an exercise going on in North Macedonia and they needed a quick turnaround of eight pallets of MREs. We managed to get a 24-hour turnaround time to their location so they could feed their troops.”

Even further outside their typical area of responsibility, the SSA has also been providing sustainment to organizations as far away as Poland, supporting NATO’s commitment to Eastern Europe.

“We receive high-priority requests from other units in theater, so (anywhere) in Europe, this can happen,” Smith said. “The units in Poland submitted a high-priority request to the 21st (Theater Sustainment Command), and they came down to us to see if we could support it, and we could.”

Smith went on to explain the SSA supported the mission in Poland by sending Class IX items, i.e., repair parts and components required for maintenance support of equipment, as well as Class III, or petroleum, oil and lubricant supplies. In addition to the Class III and IX items, the SSA also sent three large maintenance shelters, generally used for helicopter maintenance.

Smith said the biggest challenge in keeping up with the considerable demand for logistical support is simply learning the complex process used in supply management, especially as new leadership rotates into the Balkans.

“Every unit that rotates in has to learn the process,” he said. “So, the first couple of months, units are learning how to use an SSA. And then, the next unit comes in and they have to relearn how to use an SSA. Not only that, but learning the turn-in process and what actually needs to be turned in and how to track that at the unit level, we have to teach that to each unit when they come in because it’s not something that is done as often in the States and as large of a scale.”

Smith, along with his noncommissioned officer in charge, Sgt. 1st Class Raddell M. Coleman, both with the Virginia National Guard’s 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, will soon hand over the reins of the SSA to Soldiers from the Indiana National Guard’s 76th IBCT.

“It’s a lot of work,” Smith said of his handover. “With any change of an accountable officer, you have to do a 100 percent inventory of all items on your shelves. So far, it’s gone well. We didn’t lose anything, which is good.”

Overall, Smith wants units in the Balkans to understand that communication between the SSA and the organizations they support is vital to ensuring continued and precise sustainment support at every level.

“The stock control office is really the main communication between other units and the SSA,” Smith explained. “So, if they’re waiting on a part and need a status update and they can’t look it up themselves, they call our stock control and we can give them an update right then.”

With the complex nature of supply support, Smith credits his civilian workforce for ensuring operations out of the SSA run smoothly, providing much-needed support to units throughout the Balkans and beyond.

“Having a contracted force here that’s been around for 22 years and really knows what they’re doing is pretty amazing,” he said.