People are the most valuable resource within any organization. This is especially true within the U.S. Army. Regardless of the component, it is people that propel progress and innovation. Within the area of sustainment, it is vital the Army employ competent Soldiers to adapt and solve logistical challenges and meet the future needs of the branch. To further the sector of sustainment, Soldiers must proactively manage their career paths, and academic institutions must rise and adapt to the needs of their service members.
To best prepare for future Army operations, sustainment Soldiers should take a dedicated interest in pursuing their careers through their outlook and actions and focus on a holistic educational mindset. Instead of brain-dumping information directly after a test, a true leader finds ways to catalog information for future use. Students are not expected to memorize and retain every piece of information, but a general understanding of the regulations gives Soldiers a better grasp of the fundamentals. This general knowledge feeds into sustainment Soldiers’ responsibility to be accountable for their academic success.
With the continual shift in the operational environment, logisticians need to be well-rounded experts in their craft. It is no longer enough to expect the educational opportunities afforded by the Army to be sufficient to meet these needs. Sustainment Soldiers must continually seek external education opportunities to further their personal development. With each Soldier focusing on an area of their own interests, the knowledge employed within the Army exponentially increases. This, coupled with the internal instruction offered by Army academic institutions, creates more capable Soldiers.
The area of sustainment needs to continue to adapt to meet the needs of the modern battlefield. To do this, academic institutions must adopt 360 degrees of feedback, soliciting advice and criticism from all fronts. Including all internal and external stakeholders in this evaluation would give institutions the best possible outlook for its strengths and shortcomings. From there, key leaders can ascertain the shifting needs and priorities of educational programs for sustainment. It is imperative that leaders continually reevaluate the relevancy of instruction.
While after action reviews help capture the individual classroom environment, they lack long-term scope. Currently, the Army relies on email surveys to gain anonymous feedback on its programs. Between that and informal word-of-mouth feedback between peers, there needs to be more consistency in retrieving valuable criticism. It is important to receive direct feedback from sustainment Soldiers and their chain of command to fully ascertain the long-term effects the training was able to provide.
Another area of focus for academic institutions should be within the civilian sector. Not simply to monitor the actions of civilian academia or government contractors but to solicit insight from both sources. Civilian academia shines a light on the newest methods of instruction and groundbreaking research. Partnerships in this area would speed up innovation. Government contractors are the unseen sustainers, providing parts, expertise, and labor to fuel the warfighting missions. Incorporating their knowledge would bring a greater level of depth to the level of instruction.
The final area of interest is the end customer. The sustainers support the warfighters, and the needs of the warfighters drive the battle rhythm and echelons of support. Incorporating them into not only the feedback cycle but also the cycle of instruction would be invaluable to those in sustainment.
While Army academic institutions offer a wide variety of instruction, there are areas where civilian institutions offer more up-to-date information on the study of logistics management. The military institution carries a stigma of being slow to change. For the Army to remain tactically competitive, its academic institutions must enact policies and procedures that improve organizational retention and rival that of the civilian sector. As stated earlier, Army institutions must take direct feedback from all sides to monitor effectiveness. The needs and desires of current service members are changing. With the economic pressure, shifting political environments, and higher competition in the civilian sector, the Army must yield to these needs.
Another opportunity is for the Army to consider allowing Soldiers to take civilian equivalencies for some courses. If there are programs that meet the standards and qualifications set forth by the Army, allowing service members to take external courses gives them more direct control over their careers. It could cut down on instances where Soldiers need more schooling to be eligible for promotion. Promotions, pay raises, and benefits are fundamentally key to retaining meaningful talent.
Beyond fiscal priorities, retention is also affected by culture. It would not be the start of an Army school without the countless briefs on risk management, sexual harassment, resiliency, and equal opportunity. The academic environment is one of the best ways to evaluate how service members will affect the culture of the Army. It is vitally important for leadership at these levels to identify Soldiers who create a negative stigma within their classes. Addressing these issues early and within the academic environment gives the Army more time to find the root of the problem and assist the Soldier.
The expectation to remain competitive is within the academic institutions of the Army and the individual service members. The Army should continue seeking external feedback and expanding its connections with stakeholders. Being open to this feedback offers the opportunity to increase the knowledge provided within the schoolhouse. Freeing the path to educational opportunities creates a more appealing path for sustainers to consider the Army as a long-term career opportunity. Fostering individual sustainment Soldiers to explore areas of interest inside and outside of the Army will benefit the overall knowledge base of the force. It is a combined effort that will continue to innovate the areas of sustainment, academic institutions, and the Army.
2nd Lt. Rayna Catino is a student at Army Logistics University’s Basic Officer Leadership Course. She attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, branching as a transportation officer and commissioning in 2021 for the Army Reserve. She holds a Bachelor of Science in aviation business administration specializing in air transportation and a Master of Business Administration focusing on aviation from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
This article was published in the Winter 23 issue of Army Sustainment.