Accountability systems, rapidity, deception, and a multitude of locations are the crucial points of combat force employment in great power competition. Most Soldiers deployed to the Middle East over the past 20 years are familiar with personnel accountability. Millions of service members went through staging areas in Kuwait and Kyrgyzstan. They arrived in a theater of operations, and personnel accountability teams (PATs) scanned them into databases with their military identification cards. Accountability occurred in a centralized, intermediate area outside of the combat zone. This added time to force flow and delayed moving service members into the fight. Once scanned into the theater, the joint logistics enterprise transported these personnel into the combat zone or task force assembly area. Army and joint doctrine have prescribed this concept of combatant force staging as taking place outside of a combat zone. Forces then cross a national border into the fight. However, the doctrine never prescribed this as the only method.
Funneling troops through a centralized point outside the theater is a proven method relevant today against a great power competitor. Acting as a go between, a waypoint provides a much needed buffer to a great power competitor’s wide-area security countermeasures. It provides a haven for friendly forces to receive, stage, integrate, and provide onward movement to inbound combat forces. It is prudent to continue employing these intermediate locations to stage combat forces. However, there are other ways to employ PATs to gain an advantage. One such method used in Europe over the past five years is the wide-spread deployment of mobile, expeditionary teams at multiple aerial debarkation reception sites.
Combat force accountability is a core task the 16th Sustainment Brigade (16SB) trains on and constantly provides. As the tactical center of gravity for Army sustainment in Europe, 16SB routinely positions accountability teams across the continent. These teams are often within range of an adversary’s multidomain fires complex, as part of the Army’s fight tonight and speed of assembly missions. Reception sites are typically aerial nodes within two to eight hours of the inbound force’s assembly areas; flights are typically comprised of 300 to 600 personnel at a time. The 16SB’s accountability teams prepare and move with 48 hours’ notice and position at the aerial ports up to 12 hours before flights land. These accountability teams are responsible for scanning personnel into the fight. Inbound personnel transition to the movement control teams for onward passage to life support areas, tactical assembly areas, and forward operating sites. The accountability teams process each flight’s wave of incoming personnel in two to four hours. Success with this technique is apparent as demonstrated by the deployment and accurate account of tens of thousands of service members through 34 aerial ports across 19 European countries over the last year. The logic behind this system is combat credibility through the rapid placement of U.S. forces and equipment into multiple assembly areas.
U.S. Army Europe and Africa (USAREUR-AF) imposes additional dilemmas on competitors through wide-area placement of reception teams. U.S. adversaries now need to assign named areas of interest at each port and assign assets to monitor those sites. If a regional competitor wishes to act for a measurable effect, it must best decide how to engage its limited resources and determine if their action is worthwhile. Unlike the centralized staging base concept, the U.S. employment of multiple aerial ports does not afford adversaries opportunities for high rates of return on their actions. The centralized staging site affords adversaries the potential to cripple one of a limited bevy of key locations for the inflow of forces, destroy multiple assets, and disrupt U.S. forces before they can assemble. With multiple aerial ports changing based on the situation, adversaries must decide if it is prudent to allocate disrupting, or even lethal, effects of denying significantly fewer U.S. forces at one of those sites.
To make ready for the use of multiple sites, the U.S. and its allies must establish three criteria within the operating environment. One, the operating environment calls for multiple entry options, and these need not be fully developed host nation airports to achieve the desired effect. Two, Army theater sustainment forces require sufficient resources, like accountability and movement control teams, to exercise those options. Three, focusing at the operational level on the speed of assembly creates a wicked dilemma set against adversaries. Sustainment staging actions must receive, process, and provide onward movement rapidly. Building a succinct staging process reduces the time for adversaries to make decisions and allocate resources to interdict friendly forces. The benefits are combat power generation, freedom of movement, and operational reach.
USAREUR-AF regularly uses more than 30 commercial and military airports across one-third of the continent. Some countries have two or three approved aerial ports within the European theater. The numerous locations afford commanders a diverse range of options. It also keeps opposition forces guessing as to the emplacement of contingency capabilities. Further, diplomatic engagement provides U.S. and allied forces with a potential increase in the number of approved entry locations, amplifying the aforementioned effects.
To conduct these types of missions, 16SB has two human resource companies. These companies are responsible for both postal and personnel accountability. The Army Techniques Publication 1-0.2, Theater-Level Human Resources Support, states a PAT is a squad-sized element. The same manual states that these teams capture personnel accountability data on up to 600 personnel entering, transiting, or departing the aerial port or from an intratheater aerial port daily. The Army places six personnel in each of these accountability squads. The 16SB has nine human resources squads within its two companies, totaling 54 Soldiers. Using a battle-tested method over the past five years, the brigade reformed those 54 Soldiers into 27 teams to account for the same 600 personnel per day apiece. This flexible, two-person method equates to 27 locations concurrently processing 16,200 troops per day — a force equivalency of an Army division. This method allows the same theater to staff 13 locations, with two teams assigned to each port when conducting 24-hour operations. But what accounts for the sustainment brigade’s ability to process the same number of personnel with smaller teams? The answer lies in training, readiness, and mission command to achieve the speed of assembly.
The 16SB must be accurate, quick, and effective during the reception, staging, and onward movement. The brigade seeks its objectives through two means. The first is to employ systems that improve speed and accuracy. Second, the unit eschews tasks that can be accomplished before the reception or during integration at the incoming unit’s destination. To achieve rapidity in throughput, 16SB used the cloud-based Deployed Theater Accountability System (DTAS) Manifest Manager as their primary system of record. The stand-alone DTAS program has served as accountability teams’ alternate system. Previous support missions show that processing personnel through DTAS improves throughput velocity by 25 to 60 percent and is the most accurate in capturing all facets of data. However, other tasks are also a necessity for inbound troops. Requirements like creating common access cards, updating next of kin, life insurance, spousal notification, and career management records are part of predeployment Soldier readiness processing. These tasks can create issues that stall onward movement. If U.S. military members require these services, the accountability teams identify the deficiencies and notify the parent units of the requirements after the members arrive at their final destinations. These practices ensure the accountability teams fully process arriving troops. It assists in the throughput of the requisite 600 inbound forces, per day and team, off the aerial ports while capturing personnel shortfalls.
What about economy of force situations? Simultaneous deployment of troops and capabilities through multiple locations has the adage of creating multiple dilemmas for an adversarial force. The point is valid, but military deception operations create options for the same desired result. Here, U.S. forces send multiple accountability and movement control teams forward to additional ports, some never used before. The intent is to open ports that do not have assigned inbound forces. Including these ports in deception planning provides decision makers with options and potential redundancy. Decoy ports set up near planned ingress routes, adjacent locations with no forced flow scheduled, or any combination of the listed options provide a distinct advantage. The resultant move deceives regional competitors, who believe additional troops are entering the theater. The critical factor for planners is number-centric. The amount of accountability, movement control teams, and equipment for these operations is minimal and relatively low-profile. It is comprised of around 20 to 30 personnel, communications equipment, and 10 to 20 troop transport assets or commercial buses. These minimal requirements on a sustainment brigade enable broader military deception operations at three to five sites. As a deception operation occurs, the sustainment brigade can provide initial staging operations for inbound forces at 5 to 10 additional aerial ports. This remains valid as long as the sustainment brigade retains available reception capabilities.
The argument above is not a rejection of the centralized intermediate staging sites outside the adversarial fires and effects range. That concept is tested and remains invaluable in bridging the strategic base to the operational theater to protect U.S. instruments of military power. The aim is to provide a proven exemplar for other theaters with regional adversaries and great power competitors. Using our case study, the incorporation of multiple aerial ports with smaller accountability and movement control packages is a force and options multiplier. For commanders, this method provides time, controls tempo, and imposes additional dilemmas onto U.S. adversaries.
Col. Angel R. Estrada serves as the commander of the 16th Sustainment Brigade at Smith Barracks in Baumholder, Germany. He was commissioned as a quartermaster lieutenant and was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree in biology from the Metropolitan University at Puerto Rico. He holds a Master of Science in management from Cypress University and a Master of National Resource Strategy from Eisenhower School, National Defense University.
Maj. Gamaliel Rodriguez Montanez serves as the 16th Sustainment Brigade S-1 officer in charge/brigade personnel officer. He was commissioned as a lieutenant of Adjutant General Corps and awarded a management Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Puerto Rico. He holds a Master of Business Administration from the Turabo University of Puerto Rico and a Master of Operational Studies Degree from the Army Command and General Staff College’s Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
Maj. Jon Michael King serves as the 16th Sustainment Brigade operations officer. He previously served as the 16th Sustainment Brigade’s support operations officer (SPO) and the SPO distribution integration branch chief. He holds a Master of Science in business in supply chain management from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in military operation from the Army Command and General Staff College’s School of Advanced Military Studies.
Command Sgt. Maj. Amador Aguillen Jr. serves as the command sergeant major of the 16th Sustainment Brigade at Smith Barracks in Baumholder, Germany. He entered the Army as a 92A Automated Logistical Specialist. Aguillen holds a bachelor’s degree in transportation and logistical management from American Military University. He also holds a master’s degree of leadership studies from the University of Texas at El Paso.
This article was published in the Winter 23 issue of Army Sustainment.