Deploying to the European theater as an armored divisional G-4 offered a unique opportunity to contribute to developing and maturing the theater’s eastern flank. Several senior leaders have stated the center of gravity of Europe has shifted eastward, and we must adjust our way of thinking regarding sustainment operations across the sustainment enterprise. This shift requires sustainers to take a hard look at our current practices and our understanding of the operating environment, provide realistic inputs to operational plans, and focus on the end-state of an enduring presence along the eastern flank of NATO.
Serving in this theater in a variety of positions for nearly seven years gives me a unique perspective. My experience includes my time as an enlisted Soldier in the 7th Corps Support Group, the G-4 for the first mission command element within Poland, the commander of the Regimental Support Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, which rapidly deployed along European Command’s (EUCOM’s) southeastern area of responsibility (AOR) in response to Russia’s incurrence into Ukraine, and now as the G-4 for the 1st Infantry Division (1ID), the first Army division to deploy to the eastern flank of NATO. As a result, I have a great appreciation for the complexity of operating across eight sovereign nations and a myriad of steady-state and multidomain operation options.
Based on my experiences, I collected several lessons learned and best practices that can aid with further maturing this theater of operations.
As sustainers, we must understand the precision of command relationships (COMRELs) and the importance of personal influence. We must be able to execute sustainment operations beyond a line in a block chart and fully understand the differences between operational, tactical, and administrative control, as well as direct and general support relationships for both NATO and U.S. forces. It is critical to understand these relationships, as they clearly outline authorities and responsibilities. It is also essential to understand the impact of influence, primarily shaped by personal reputation, ability to communicate effectively, and personal experiences. Both appropriate COMRELs and personal influence are required to be an effective sustainer along the eastern flank of NATO.
A critical lesson learned is relationships genuinely matter. We have heard the adage “relationships matter” and understand it is a little cliché. However, relationships are the bedrock of NATO, and we must cultivate positive relationships with our counterparts. I have always held personal relationships in high regard, and personal relationships are critical to our NATO allies. Many of our partners have been in the same position for several years and may rapidly accelerate from their military position to higher positions of responsibility and leadership. Relationships developed at the tactical level grow into strategic level relationships. All NATO relationships must be genuine and pure. Sustainers must establish and cultivate meaningful relationships across all partners. I have several meaningful relationships that have endured deployments or assignments and assist with navigating much of the bureaucracy within our theater.
A challenge with managing regionally aligned forces (RAF) is the high personnel turnover and dynamic operating environment. EUCOM is a theater that requires a detailed familiarity developed over years of working in Europe. Operating across as many as ten sovereign nations yields a level of coordination (bureaucracy) with which most sustainers struggle. For example, any large military or movement of fuel and munitions requires authorization. This can take 5 to 30 days to gain approval, and the transportation mode affects the timeline and approval process. This is manageable, but one must acknowledge most actions within Europe are slower and require deliberate planning to execute than what may seem to be a simple action within Forces Command.
We cannot forget the basics — fundamentals win championships! This is a very complex theater with several moving pieces, and we must conduct detailed plans and analysis, similar to a combat training center effort. As needed, we must fully understand our organic and external capacities, requirements per the steady state operations, exercises, and the posture for contingency operations. We must develop and maintain daily staff estimates and integrate them into the operational planning process. These basic staffing actions are paramount, especially along the eastern flank of NATO, as we constantly compete with the threat rapidly transitioning to contingency operations. It is critical sustainers break down complex problems into the basics. We have successfully tackled the most complex problem sets by identifying the basic issues, framing the solution within doctrinal guidelines, and developing feasible and acceptable solutions. We must leverage the eight principles of sustainment within the operational art framework, ensuring prolonged endurance and operational reach to enable freedom of action. I am not saying we have the perfect solution every time, but no mission fails due to tactical logistics.
Another point I would like to highlight is we must be creative. The sustainment community in Europe is uniquely positioned to lay the foundation of an immature theater that will significantly aid follow-on forces and strengthen our relationship with our NATO partners. Although we use doctrine as a handrail, there are several opportunities where creativity is encouraged and required. For example, in deploying the 101st Division Sustainment Brigade (DSB) within the Area of Operations Victory, we had to revisit current practices, roles, responsibilities, and expectations and integrate greater capability across the enterprise. We conducted a sustainment conference to review our practices, policies, and understanding of the AOR and to develop the way forward as we mature NATO’s eastern flank.
Currently, 1ID leads several working groups, meetings, and a sustainment conference with representatives across the sustainment enterprise. These efforts pay dividends in solidifying our concept of support and sustainment architecture.
Being the first RAF division yields several opportunities. We established all policies, procedures, practices, and common operating pictures (COPs). A COP must capture current capabilities by location and serve as a baseline for informed decisions. As previously discussed, our ability to preserve the commander’s decision space is vital. A solid COP aids with planning and shapes higher echelons in decision-making and planning efforts.
Sustainers must break the current mindset of dependence upon contracted support. Our first option must always be a tactical solution or available assets. Unfortunately, we often default to a contracted solution while having idle Army assets. This dependency will not cease overnight. While we cannot forgo the benefits of contracted solutions, as contracts are a key part of our sustainment portfolio, those solutions take time to realize.
Contracts per Army Sustainment Command take 120 days to award. This is ideal within a garrison-type environment, but within a forward-deployed environment, this is roughly 50 percent of a nine-month deployment. It requires a fundamental shift from a red carpet, turnkey solution to leveraging our equipment. With a sudden shift to the eastern flank of NATO, we had to shift forces to demonstrate a credible combat force to aid with further deterrence of hostility against NATO. As the G-4, we must develop life support from an austere state to semi-permanent and permanent states. Contracts are tools in sustainers’ tool kits that take time to develop requirements and execute properly. These critical actions are needed to develop a contract correctly, but operation timelines may not allow for the contracted support. I have found great utility in leveraging our organic maintenance tents, military tents, and host nation assets until we can develop more semi-permanent or permanent life support. For example, with our RAF aviation brigade requiring critical space for aircraft, we leveraged host nation assets and infrastructure, the units’ organic assets, and a contracting solution. We also coordinated existing assets from other locations and repurposed them for the current needs. This was a byproduct of relationships built with external agencies and an accurate COP. The effort saved upwards of $3 million with minimal staff work.
The RAF DSB brought a wealth of experience and assets from materiel management to transportation management. However, the proper integration of this organization into the greater systemic enterprise was not easy. This forced the team to challenge current methodologies and practices.
We had to rethink our current boards, bureaus, centers, cells, and working groups (B2C2WG) to ensure we control and synchronize efforts across the AOR. We must ensure the proper allocation of resources per our national and commanding general’s priorities. Although introducing an RAF DSB into the European theater was a huge win for our community, there are not enough assets to afford unfettered freedom of action across ten nations. We must provide the proper allocation of assets. More importantly, we must be transparent with the process to ensure the greatest understanding across the sustainment and operational enterprise. Our B2C2WG must include operational oversight and proper package decisions at the appropriate echelon.
To highlight the significance of our AOR, it is equivalent to operating across the western seaboard of the continental United States. We ask all sustainers to plan, execute, and mission command to sustain operations that span the size of California.
We plan to integrate the movement control battalion (MCB) into our RAF sustainment brigade to aid with this challenge. Although doctrinally, an MCB can be integrated into sustainment brigade and higher echelons, as needed.
Not all rotational DSBs have worked with an MCB, but we must integrate this critical asset into the DSB. The movement control teams and MCB are crucial in navigating transportation challenges with moving equipment and personnel across eight sovereign nations. In addition, MCBs can allocate or task common-user land transportation (CULT) assets. This is critical as we assign CULT assets, coordinate movement authorization, and synchronize the assets with the operational requirement. Each nation’s administrative requirement is unique, as rules for moving hazardous material, equipment, and personnel through their country differ.
Although we have yet to master this process, we must remain great teammates and partners with our NATO allies. It seems simple, but if not done correctly, it will have political and operational impacts.
In closing, sustainment is fundamental to the success of all operations. Europe offers the real opportunity to establish a solid support foundation that endures. The coordination, integration, and synchronization of resources and captivities enable ready forces, sustains combat power, and maintains endurance in the conduct of operations.
Lt. Col. Christopher M. Richardson currently serves as the chief of sustainment, assistant chief of staff G-4, for the 1st Infantry Division. He served as the commander of the Regimental Support Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment. He is a graduate of Command and General Staff College, Joint Professional Military Education II, and Advanced Navigation Operations.
This article was published in the Summer 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.