Since April 2021, Sydney Smith has served as President of Army Logistics University (ALU), which comprises three colleges and a Noncommissioned Officer Academy for military and civilian logistics leaders at Fort Lee, Virginia. A 1992 graduate of Davidson College, Smith was commissioned as a quartermaster officer through Davidson’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program after completing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Throughout her career in uniform, Smith commanded at multiple echelons and served in varying staff assignments both at home and on deployment to Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea, and El Salvador. She now oversees ALU’s workforce of more than 500 logistics professionals tasked to train, educate, develop, and certify the Army’s logisticians to meet the sustainment needs of the Total Army and joint force. Army Sustainment sat down with the former director of the Combined Arms Support Command’s (CASCOM’s) Fielded Force Integration Directorate to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing ALU as it prepares the next generation of the Army’s logistics leaders.
ALU has expanded greatly since its inception in 1954 as a 12-week Army Supply Management course. How has its mission and scope changed over time to meet the educational needs of the Army sustainment enterprise?
The evolution of ALU from the 1950s onward has really tracked the evolution of logistics as a science and key enabler of the warfighting function writ large. From the industrial base in the strategic support area to the very far tactical point of need, there’s been a shift in how we view each sector of sustainment as inherently interconnected. Everything from supply sourcing to final delivery and maintenance needs to be integrated, but in the past, most approaches were segmented; your procurement and distribution channels may have been divorced, for example. The same held true for training and education, which only emphasized disconnectedness. ALU has adapted over time, most notably in the 1960s, 1990s, and the present day, to nest with guidance from Army Materiel Command (AMC) and Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). AMC has helped us tailor and target our education to a diverse logistics workforce, and TRA-DOC has helped us deliver that training to a broader scope across the Army. For instance, in 1991, the Combined Logistics Officer Advanced Course was established to provide integrated training across logistics branches. ALU was then established, as we now know it, in 2009 to further synchronize and deliver professional military education (PME) for those three logistics branches: ordnance, quartermaster, and transportation. Our next evolution integrated other key sustainment functions, such as human and financial resources, into our training methodologies, which also account for a more data-enabled force. Moving into 2023, I’m excited to say we will redesignate ourselves as Army Sustainment University to reflect this more holistic approach, as well.
You have served as ALU’s president since April 2021. What have been some of your key accomplishments during that tenure? What are you most looking forward to in 2023 in terms of academic programming across ALU’s three colleges and its Noncommissioned Officer Academy?
As I mentioned earlier, our ability to integrate logistics training and education has been a major foundational accomplishment of the ALU team. In 2021, we made a concerted effort to identify a common curriculum across the three logistics branches to implement within the Logistics Basic Officer Leadership Course. We revamped the program of instruction that firmly aimed to build multifunctional logistics lieutenants prepared to operate across echelons regardless of their branch. That curriculum is tactically focused and progressive in nature, preparing lieutenants to hit the ground running when they arrive in their platoon. Feedback thus far has been positive, but we will continue to listen and refine moving forward to ensure our students leave ready to act decisively to enable sustainment delivery in contested scenarios. Another key initiative has been our approach to data analytics training and clearly identifying the competencies our workforce will need moving forward to enable multidomain operations. We’ve coordinated with the Army’s Chief Data Officer to help us set the foundation for what the curriculum needs to look like and how it must be ready to adapt quickly. Our end goal is to incorporate comprehensive data analytics education across all our schools by 2028. Additionally, our enduring relationships with AMC and the Army Civilian Career Management Activity (ACCMA) have been pivotal in ensuring our PME exhaustively accounts for civilian needs in lockstep with those of our Soldiers. From courses covering supply chain optimization and Army Campaign Plan operationalization, our partnerships with AMC and ACCMA have been pivotal in how we train our civilians in their technical profession.
From your perspective as ALU’s president, how do you approach delivering a curriculum that strikes an appropriate balance between the art and science of sustainment?
That balance requires constant attention and management; it’s a fluid issue based on a given educational context. I’ll guide the conversation toward the doctrinal perspective and the need for our training to be agile as we’ve evolved as an institution over time from the 1950s onward. To balance the art and science of leader and technical education is to be agile while meeting the needs of the Army as they evolve in new operational contexts. The key to this is synchronization across the logistics branches, the greater modernization enterprise, and the field writ large. ALU’s Board of Directors contains the three logistics branch commandants, so I’m able to bring educational challenges directly to those leaders to seek guidance on how we can adjust the curriculum to find that balance based on what they see as pressing needs or gaps in the field. These updates become common across our suite of PME and are approved by CASCOM leadership. Our instructors, too, play a pivotal role in this process, so we know it’s absolutely critical we invest in their development and modernization, as well. Training future leaders to be agile and adaptive begins with their instructors and their broad technical understanding of Army doctrine and its supporting strategic initiatives. We’re also working to remove barriers between developing a curriculum and its delivery by our instructors. This will help us adapt to changing requirements in the field, within doctrine, or even specific to materiel.
ALU is called to train and educate roughly 20,000 logisticians annually from the U.S. and more than 80 partner nations. What are some of the key challenges and opportunities that come with that massive footprint? How did the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 impact your pedagogy?
COVID-19 forced us to fundamentally change the way we delivered on our mission as an educational institution, and we certainly weren’t alone. With that challenge, however, came the perfect test for the ability to adapt and experiment to keep our focus on our students. The scope of what we do didn’t change, but our media for delivery simply had to shift. We were able to transition rather seamlessly into a fully virtual classroom environment while noting some key advantages in flexibility thanks to that delivery. We’re now leveraging a blended learning environment that can account for opportunities where in-person learning can and should be executed to optimize leader development. After conducting an internal analysis examining blended learning and student outcomes, we were able to conclude that maintaining that balance would continually benefit our students. The criticality of in-person learning can’t be overstated, but we’re still taking advantage of those learning opportunities that can and should be delivered virtually for the benefit of our students. We’ve been able to meet the needs of our combatant commands (CCMD) more effectively through virtual, sometimes asynchronous, delivery. Instead of a two-week course in person, we can adjust that course to span one month for CCMD staff to participate from afar using half days of instruction while still meeting their mission needs in theater. As we carry these lessons forward into 2023, I’m excited to see how we’ll continue to build that sustainment culture across the Total Army that ensures our education keeps pace with modernization.
Mike Crozier is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4’s Logistics Initiatives Group. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgetown University.
This article was published in the Winter 23 issue of Army Sustainment.