Leading Sustainment Formations | Focus on Military Decision-Making Process, Leader, Counseling to Improve Mission Command, Leader Development

By Brig. Gen. Steven L. AllenMay 2, 2023

Soldiers assigned to Bravo Company, 87th Division Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Division Sustainment Brigade stand in formation during a welcome home ceremony Nov. 1, 2022, at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
Soldiers assigned to Bravo Company, 87th Division Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Division Sustainment Brigade stand in formation during a welcome home ceremony Nov. 1, 2022, at Fort Stewart, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Sgt. Elorina Charles) VIEW ORIGINAL

As a former commander and staff officer supporting previous commanders at various echelons, I recognize, understand, and appreciate the critical role all steps in the Army design methodology and the military decision-making process (MDMP) contribute to effective planning. In this article, I focus on two steps of the MDMP from a sustainment formation perspective. At the conclusion of this article, I challenge readers to be experts in MDMP Step 1, Receive the Mission, and Step 2, Mission Analysis, along with all 18 substeps.

Opportunities to learn, understand, and apply the MDMP are reinforced up front and early in the leader development process. Key to leader development is receiving direct feedback from commanders. Leveraging initial and periodic counseling and progress reviews (for civilian employees) to reinforce the MDMP in subordinates is well worth the time invested. To be effective, these counseling and progress reviews must go beyond the MDMP training and include, among other pertinent topics, discussions on Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, suicide prevention, training management, personnel turnover, and professional development. Instilling the importance of the MDMP and adherence to other key programs early in a leader’s career is essential to development, must be ongoing and continuous, and never be simply a one-time discussion to check the box.

The role of the commander is vital in the MDMP. “The commander is the most important participant in the MDMP. More than simply decision makers in this process, commanders use their experience, knowledge, and judgment to guide staff planning efforts.” — Field Manual (FM) 5-0.

Learn the process; follow the process.

As a former expeditionary sustainment command (ESC) commander, I recognize and appreciate both the chief of staff and G-3 were integral parts of the MDMP. These leaders thoroughly understood the MDMP and could orchestrate the synchronization for the organization. In a normal scenario, the MDMP starts upon verbal notification or written order with Step 1, Receive the Mission. During this step, the chief of staff and G-3 would typically provide me with the background of the sustainment mission, a copy of the guidance or order, and any other known information, including a timeline to execute. Depending on the time available, the decision to do the entire MDMP or abbreviated MDMP would be given. To prepare the team and focus our efforts during this step, I would review and have my G-3 publish Warning Order 1.

From my perspective, being an expert in Step 2, Mission Analysis, of the MDMP is essential for both commanders and staff. If done thoroughly and in detail with running estimates, collaboration, and coordination across the staff, this step identifies areas in planning to examine further known and unknown information required to execute the tasks. Additionally, this step allows the commander to hear from all staff sections, not just the G-2, G-3, distribution management center, and support operations officer. Being prepared to do mission analysis (all 18 substeps) prevents the urgency from moving straight into developing courses of action (COAs), let alone producing an operation order (OPORD) and making decisions with little to no staff collaboration and coordination.

A question for the readers: have you ever been in an organization with archives on a shared file where a similar task was going to be performed, and the unit would simply copy, paste, edit, and publish an OPORD with limited, if any, mission analysis? And a follow-on question: has this failure to perform a complete mission analysis led to erroneous mistakes, incorrect conclusions, or even the need to produce amended orders due to the publication of an incomplete/inaccurate OPORD? Unfortunately, rushed publication mistakes frequently happen when all 18 steps of mission analysis are not performed.

Inside the 18 substeps, the commander receives the mission analysis briefing from the staff. This is an opportunity to allow adjacent and subordinate units to attend, facilitate parallel planning, and allow personnel to provide comments that enhance or clarify planning. At the end of the mission analysis briefing, the commander provides comments and guidance. A technique I have used and still use is the “concur, concur with changes, and nonconcur” slide at the beginning and end of the mission analysis briefing. This slide is used at the beginning of the briefing to identify what decisions are being presented to the commander and at the end to capture in writing those comments with my signature or initials and date. This technique can also apply to other planning events unrelated to the MDMP or exercises.

Early in my career, I was often told: “Memories fail, write things down.” Utilize this simple technique of the concur, concur with changes, and nonconcur during the MDMP or other issues requiring a commander’s decision. Gain that decision or guidance in writing, then hand it off to your chief of staff, G-3, or secretary of the general staff and keep it as part of the archived mission analysis for commander accountability and historical records. This technique also avoids the ambiguity of those in the briefing that may have filtered comments differently. Upon completion of the MDMP step 2, review and publish Warning Order 2.

“Army, corps, and division staffs support the process by determining, validating, and communicating support requirements to the sustainment headquarters … Operational and sustainment commanders and staffs should synchronize requirements to ensure responsive support … the distribution management center (theater sustainment command (TSC) and ESC) or support operations staff (combat sustainment support battalion (CSSB), division sustainment support battalion (DSSB), and brigade support battalion (BSB)) passes the plan to the G-3/S-3 to be included in the orders process.” — Army Techniques Publication 5-0.2-1, Staff Reference Guide Volume I Unclassified Resources, December 2020.

The corps/division/brigade combat team G-4/S-4s are integrated into all steps of the MDMP. Typically, there are an ESC, division sustainment brigade, and brigade support battalion support operations planner in the MDMP as well. Further, I encourage sustainment organizations to reach outside their immediate unit for input into the MDMP, as appropriate, and involve the totality of the joint logistics enterprise (JLEnt). Critical JLEnt units I have come to rely on for expertise when conducting the MDMP include but are not limited to all service components, Defense Logistics Agency subordinate commands, medical supply units, and leaders from Army Materiel Command subordinate commands.

The sustainment organization’s entire staff must be agile and ready with running estimates to execute steps 1 and 2 (and all 18 substeps) of the MDMP regardless of higher headquarters’ issuance of any formal warning orders or execution orders. Parallel planning should be allowed and encouraged with higher, adjacent, and lower operational and sustainment headquarters to ensure the sustainment level commander’s staff develops and builds current and future operational plans and sustainment requirements to allow for timely decisions. It’s better to have an 80 percent product with appropriate risk assessment applied and an execution order published versus waiting for the 100 percent product after the mission has started.

The staff reference guide also states, “the distribution management center (TSC and ESC) or support operations staff (CSSB, DSSB, and BSB) passes the plan to the G-3/S-3 to be included in the orders process.” This passing action does not occur until a distribution synchronization board, chaired by the sustainment level commander, has reviewed the next 24-48-72-96 hours of commodities scheduled to move by air, sea, and ground. Leaders from the intelligence, force protection, engineer, and subordinate commands are critical members of this board to give the commander near real-time assessment of the threat and air, sea, and road conditions of the distribution network. Once the assessment has been presented, the commander approves the plan. Once approved, the plan goes to the G-3/S-3 to be included in the orders process and tracked as current operations from the night battle captain/major. At the commander’s morning update, the sustainment staff covers the 24-48-72 hours, including the distribution plan, through mission completion.

Use the process and take the time to practice.

Although the MDMP seems like a lot of work, it becomes part of your normal battle rhythm, after your team completes it once. It also helps each staff section write their portion of the OPORD. Depending on multiple COAs or a directed COA, OPORD publication and OPORD briefing are next presented to subordinate commanders, followed immediately by a 5- to 10-minute verbal confirmation brief. Subordinate commands are then allowed time to conduct their analysis and present a back brief later to the commander to ensure they fully understand their tasks and purposes. This back brief further allows the commander to understand the tactical situation to influence the operational and strategic levels for resources or additional coordination as required. The mission is not done until the after action review (AAR) is complete and in writing. The AAR becomes the baseline for planning the next event.

“Lifelong learning is a professional obligation for all Army professionals that includes actively offering and accepting coaching, counseling, and mentoring.” — Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 6-22, Army Leadership and the Profession, July 2019.

Soldiers assigned to the 716th Maintenance Platoon, 3rd Division Sustainment Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division stand in formation as part of an activation ceremony for the new maintenance unit Dec. 16, 2022, at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
Soldiers assigned to the 716th Maintenance Platoon, 3rd Division Sustainment Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division stand in formation as part of an activation ceremony for the new maintenance unit Dec. 16, 2022, at Fort Stewart, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Spc. Elsi Delgado) VIEW ORIGINAL

Take the time during counseling to discuss the MDMP and why it is important.

There are two publications normally on my desk: the MDMP Handbook, dated May 2015, from the Center for Army Lessons Learned, and a battle staff reference book I use during initial and periodic counseling or progress reviews. Each staff section has a part during the MDMP, and it is important to provide a clear understanding of my expectations up front to those I rate and senior rate. I added this discussion in the counseling sessions to explain everyone participates in the MDMP and should be prepared to participate with their running estimate and to highlight how the MDMP reduces the stovepipes across the staff. Finally, I explain how the MDMP allows for cross communication and collaboration among the staff and provides opportunities to learn together.

From my perspective, verbal and written counseling are continuous processes, and I make a concerted effort to complete semi-annual formal counseling for each of the 50 to 55 military and civilian personnel I rate or senior rate. A technique I use is the 3/3 method. The first 1/3 is the initial written digitally signed counseling. Approximately five months later comes the 2/3 follow-up and periodic counseling. Finally, the 3/3 includes the draft of their military or civilian evaluation followed by officer evaluation report/noncommissioned officer evaluation report/DOD performance management and appraisal program counseling or appraisal review. I learned a long time ago that attempting to counsel everyone within a 30-day period does not work and does not hold true to my word to provide ample time for each person. Using the 3/3 method allows me to complete my counseling duties in a timely and professional manner that is most beneficial to both the people and me I rate/senior rate.

“With effective counseling, no evaluation report — positive or negative — should be a surprise. A counseling program includes all subordinates, not just those thought to have the most potential.” — ADP 6-22.

Effective counseling also aids in the talent management process.

The opportunity to engage personnel early on to identify strengths, previous schooling, or training and to discuss opportunities allows time to shape opportunities or requests for follow on assignments for unit or location. During counseling sessions for graduates of intermediate level education, planners course, Senior Service College, advanced civilian school for coded additional skill identifier 96 positions, the United States Army Sergeant Major Academy or Battle Staff Course, the discussion focuses on leveraging that schooling to lead their staff sections as well as across the rest of the staff. For those that have been in operations or logistics staff, the discussion during counseling is on opportunities for advanced civilian schooling, Training with Industry, intermediate-level education interagency fellowships, or the School of Advanced Military Studies, as well as the process to attend any one of these.

From a mission command and leader development perspective, understanding the MDMP is essential to planning and is a key part of leader development. Periodic touchpoints with the commander early on and throughout the process allow for better understanding and communication between the commander and staff as well as adjacent and subordinate units. Being an expert in the first two steps in the MDMP is essential to facilitate staff synchronization. Clearly understanding and completing all 18 substeps in mission analysis creates better staff cross-coordination and collaboration. Gaining a commander’s concurrence with any comments verbally and in writing reduces the chance of misunderstanding and assists the staff as it progresses through the remaining steps of the MDMP with clear guidance. Concluding the mission with an AAR ensures both positive and negative outcomes are captured and serve as the baseline for planning the next event. Conducting continuous initial and periodic counseling is essential to leader development, and taking the opportunity to emphasize the MDMP and other topics provides better communication and builds unit cohesion and trust where personnel can reach their maximum potential.


Brig. Gen. Steven L. Allen currently serves as the director of logistics, J-4, United States Forces Korea/deputy assistant chief of staff, C-4, Combined Forces Command/assistant chief of staff, Logistics, U-4, United Nations Command. He is a former commander of the 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command in the Republic of Korea. He is a Distinguished Military Graduate of the University of North Dakota and holds a master’s degree in general administration from Central Michigan University, a Master of Business Administration from the Florida Institute of Technology, and a master’s degree in strategic studies from the United States Army War College.


This article was published in the Summer 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.


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