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Europe is the most complex and mature theater of military operations in the world, with more than 44 sovereign nations, each having sophisticated and enforced regulatory oversight for managing the transport of military goods and personnel. Therefore, Europe presents unique logistics challenges for military planners attempting to deliver combat-credible forces at the right time and place. Over the past 75 years, the world witnessed the Cold War buildup of U.S. force structure and subsequent drawdown, only to find a resurgent and aggressive Russia. The reduction of organically assigned units to Europe from 1991 to 2005 included the deactivation or redeployment of two corps and two division headquarters plus sustainment enablers.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine definitively altered the operational environment here in Europe. Instead of predictable rotations of regionally aligned forces (RAF), units received short notice orders after the Russian incursion to deploy in support of Assure and Deter. The 21st Theater Sustainment Command (TSC) responded to this transition by developing the reception, staging, onward movement, and integration (RSOI) suite of tools to help units rapidly deploy into and sustain operations within Europe. The RSOI suite of tools established a community of practice for knowledge management that enhanced the operationalization of deployments by transforming how the 21st TSC processed, maintained, and disseminated information.

New Operational Environment

The operational environment in Europe changed after Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. Before this event, continental U.S.-based units rotated into the European theater according to predictable planning cycles. Global force management prescribed deployment of RAF, and the joint exercise life cycle forecasted incoming units participating in exercises. Planners within the 21st TSC and inbound units understood deployment preparation planning and execution details in advance and had ample time to prepare per standardized procedures.

By contrast, in response to Russia’s aggressive posture, on Feb. 2, 2022, the Army began rapidly deploying forces into Europe as part of the Assure and Deter mission set under Enhanced Vigilance Activities. Over the next three weeks, the 82nd Airborne Division deployed approximately 5,000 Soldiers, and the 18th Airborne Corps established a forward-deployed headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany. Furthermore, the Russian incursion on Feb. 23, 2022, prompted the Secretary of Defense to order the deployment of a U.S. response force. The advanced party for the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT), 3rd Infantry Division, deployed on Feb. 28, 2022, and the trail party arrived on March 5, 2022. Within 10 days, an unscheduled ABCT was in Europe, in addition to the RAF ABCT. Within four weeks, the European theater had received an influx of approximately 12,000 Soldiers.

The rapid deployment of multiple units to Europe not previously forecasted forced the 21st TSC to reassess how it assists units deploying into theater. These unforecasted, short-notice deployments revealed the inadequacy of current systems and processes to assist multiple units deploying simultaneously. While the maturity of the European theater ensures resources and capabilities abound, it also poses severe constraints due to overlapping legal, environmental, and regulatory requirements. The rapid deployments made existing deployment checklists infeasible and accelerated units’ timeframes for learning how to conduct operations in Europe. Maj. Gen. Mark Simerly discusses this phenomenon in his article, “Deploy Tonight: Deployment Process Issues.” He writes the threat of large-scale combat operations (LSCO) and an incumbent need for rapid deployments mean the Army “must rebuild our operational deployment capability.” The transition to a more dynamic operational environment necessitated a more responsive and anticipatory approach for receiving units into the European theater of operations.

RSOI Suite of Tools

The approach adopted by the 21st TSC emanated from reexamining what is essential for units arriving into the theater. Rapid deployments place intense demands upon commanders and their staffs, who must quickly initiate planning. Prompt acquisition of pertinent information is vital. This enables the development of accurate running estimates, which Field Manual (FM) 5-0, Planning and Orders Production, describes as “critical to effective planning.” With its enhanced methods for sharing information, the Army 365 initiative offered the 21st TSC an excellent opportunity to improve the speed and efficiency of providing inbound units with the resources and coordination they need to initiate planning. This capability and the 21st TSC’s need for a holistic end-to-end product, including an easy reference handbook, resulted in the RSOI suite of tools.

Employing Microsoft (MS) Teams under Army 365 as the host platform, the RSOI suite of tools is a solution for adapting to expanding operational requirements. This Army 365 MS Teams page allows the 21st TSC to easily clone and tailor the information layout for every inbound unit. The RSOI suite of tools consolidates resources into a single platform easily accessible at echelon to units deploying into theater. In support of this initiative, the 21st TSC distribution management center (DMC) created an RSOI handbook to serve as a comprehensive quick reference guide for deploying into theater. The result is a quickly accessible digital and hard copy guidebook to assist action officers at echelon with coordinating subject matter expert support. Within each unit MS Teams page, units can access the 21st TSC theater concept of sustainment, contact rosters, a proposed Annex F (deployment order), and numerous planning resources.

The 21st TSC gives unit leadership full ownership rights and invites them to manage unit pages as necessary, with the content and task list fully customizable. Unit ownership is a crucial element of the site functionalities that assist in managing pre-deployment tasks. Instead of deciphering an Excel spreadsheet full of requirements, units can assign individuals directly to tasks already built into the MS Planner management tool. Based on the deployment timeframe — 180, 60, or 10 days — the Planner tab in the RSOI suite of tools offers a system whereby units can more efficiently execute and track the completion of pre-deployment tasks. Unit leadership can monitor progress by category, action officer, or suspense date from a board or calendar view. The current limitation is that the MS Planner function is a subjective reporting method and does not receive direct feed from systems of record with a readiness visualization. The long-term objective is to link sustainment systems of record and create supporting dashboards to illustrate units’ readiness and ability to deploy to a theater of war.

Limited User Test

The RSOI suite of tools has produced excellent results since the 21st TSC initiated its limited user test in April 2022. As of April 2023, the DMC had released the suite of tools to 11 brigades, and the three that recently arrived in theater consisted of an ABCT, an infantry brigade combat team, and a division sustainment brigade. This diversity of unit types generated valuable feedback. Their inputs reinforced the importance of 21st TSC planners integrating the RSOI suite of tools when making initial contact with units. This provides deploying brigades an entry point for gaining the resources and support necessary to begin planning their deployments. One brigade planner underscored its significance by outlining the inclusion of resources into their initial mission analysis and subsequent planning sessions. Some units have asked for resources in the RSOI suite of tools as early as 12 months before deploying. Others requested membership in pages belonging to other units to gain access to the tools, which hastened the 21st TSC creation of pages for those specific units.

The RSOI suite of tools enhances collaboration by providing a space where planners across theater can work with their counterparts from incoming units. They can share and simultaneously work on products, submit requests for information, and host operational planning teams. This further enhances the operationalization of European deployments by facilitating the collaborative dialogue that FM 5-0 defines as the catalyst that produces new ways of thinking and innovative solutions. Accelerating the flow of useful information and the responsiveness of coordination across the sustainment warfighting function has intensified the operational momentum of deployments to Europe.

Benefits of the RSOI Suite of Tools

Leaders from the tactical to the strategic level have voiced interest in the benefits of the RSOI suite of tools, as evidenced by platoon and company leadership comprising 50% or more site members. It is important to note these results were only possible because the 21st TSC fundamentally changed how it shares information. For incoming units, it was no longer a matter of being present for a single pre-deployment brief or included in an email distribution. The resources and means of coordination are now available to units and planners at any time. This fundamental change closes the gap in the effective management of the simultaneous arrival of multiple units into Europe. The collaborative space brought together sustainment planners across theater due to the growing recognition of its effectiveness in facilitating coordination and producing shared understanding. The outcome is planners can support multiple units quickly and align resources to enable their entry into theater.

Continued Development

The 21st TSC is actively working to improve the RSOI suite of tools. This includes developing instructional videos, implementing quick response codes for unit pages, and applying MS Power BI functions to enhance data processing and management within the RSOI suite of tools. Beyond sustainment, this approach has broader operational potential, and it could become an all-encompassing suite of tools capable of synchronization across the warfighting functions if widely adopted. Such efforts will utilize Army 365 to the fullest. However, these refinements are only evolutionary.

In his article, Driving Readiness at Echelon, Gen. Charles Hamilton describes measures the sustainment community must prioritize to maintain the strategic advantage. He highlights the need to “revolutionize our approach to data-enabled sustainment operations.” In support of this endeavor, the ultimate goal of the RSOI suite of tools is to link its collaborative capabilities with systems of record and reporting. For instance, the current MS Planner deployment checklists rely on self-reporting without objectively validating task completion. An improved system would link specific deployment tasks to a database that automatically updates the status, such as monitoring unit deployment list build status, submission of Class V requests, and routing identifier code realignment.

Additionally, plans and operations sections should possess more options to pull information from databases. Consider building a running estimate or common operational picture in a collaborative space with an information chart linked to Army Vantage that auto-updates on PowerPoint. This capability would serve as a powerful data bridge between programs (Global Combat Support System — Army, Total Ammunition Management Information System, Logistics Functional Area Services, etc.) and the collaborative deployment operations process within the RSOI suite of tools. Attempts to improve deployment operationalization must account for the staff whose planning efforts — as witnessed on countless Word, Excel, and PowerPoint products — inform the commander’s decision and bring their intent to fruition. The Army can optimize staff performance and the resulting commander’s visualization by linking systems of record to a collaborative space for deployment planning and coordination. This could produce the kind of data stream leverage that Hamilton describes as able to “reliably and rapidly inform immediate and future decisions.” A data bridge linked to a collaborative enclave would combine to accelerate the observe and orient process so commanders can more quickly make decisions and units can act within a shorter time frame to conduct operations.

Conclusion

The 21st TSC has made significant progress in developing sustainable solutions to address the challenges of Europe’s emerging and changing operational environment. The team has established a knowledge management community of practice to facilitate deployment operations at the speed of war. The 21st TSC RSOI suite of tools demonstrates emerging enterprise resource tools and leveraging new systems to deploy military materiel and personnel. Moving forward, the linkage and integration of record and reporting systems within a collaborative space would maximize scarce planning and execution resources in the transition from competition to crisis. This fusion of systems has the potential to revolutionize the flow and processing of information in support of LSCO. The 21st TSC’s efforts are a significant step toward maintaining the strategic advantage and driving readiness at echelon.

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Lt. Col. Oliver Stolley serves as the Distribution Integration and Host Nation Support branch chief for the Distribution Management Center for 21st Theater Sustainment Command at Panzer Kaserne, Germany. He served as the executive officer for 3rd Brigade Support Battalion (BSB), 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT), 3rd Infantry Division (ID), and later as the support operations officer for 703rd BSB, 2nd ABCT, 3rd ID. He has a Bachelor of Arts in communication from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, and holds a Master of Science in business (supply chain management) from the University of Kansas.

Capt. Daniel McCall serves as a force rotations planner for the Distribution Integration Branch of the Distribution Management Center for 21st Theater Sustainment Command at Panzer Kaserne, Germany. He previously served as commander of Forger Forward Support Company, 1-7 Field Artillery, 2/1 Infantry Division (ID), and served as assistant division transportation officer for 1st ID. He commissioned in May 2014 as a transportation officer and graduated from the Logistics Captains Career Course in May 2018. He holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in history and political science from the University of Montevallo, Alabama. He has a Master of Arts in history from Auburn University, Alabama.

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

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