By the time I completed my tenure as a battalion S-4, I had served three full years in the position between two battalions, one an M777 artillery battalion and one an M109A6 battalion. I now serve as Charlie Battery commander for 1-41 Field Artillery Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia. This article is a small how-to for any combat arms officer who has the unique and rewarding opportunity to be a battalion S-4 with zero training as a logistics officer.
The first six months as a battalion S-4 are always the most stressful. In addition to being in a new position, you now work directly with the battalion executive officer (XO) and are much closer to your senior rater, the commander. These six months are the perfect example of what drinking from a fire hose is when it comes to information overload. Leaning heavily on your NCO in charge (NCOIC) helps you survive these six months. It enables you to learn enough to make educated decisions and become a real asset to the military decision-making process (MDMP) when your battalion conducts it. Use the first week of your time as the S-4 to go out and meet people. Introduce yourself as the new S-4 and put a face to the name of all XOs, supply teams, your brigade counterparts, and points of contact for the various outside organizations you will work with. This shows you care about the work and helps everyone remember who you are and be more willing to assist in the future.
The most important mindset you need to be successful as a staff officer is the realization you work for and in support of the subordinate unit; they do not work for you. You work to facilitate their training and their care. It is not their job to build your reports and slide deck to present to the commander. Showing up to work every day with that mindset instills the motivation you need to better your battalion.
The first thing you need to set yourself up for success is registering for all the accounts needed as an S-4. The main programs are Global Combat Support System-Army (GCSS-Army, also known as GCSS-A and G-Army) and whatever the current flavor is for the financial liability investigation of property loss (FLIPL) management website, which at the time of this writing is electronic FLIPL (eFLIPL). GCSS-Army is where the S-4 sees information such as property serial numbers, what units have what property, dollar values of each property book, property book shortages, and so much more. It is a powerful tool, and I highly recommend any new S-4 take the time to complete the GCSS-Army Training and Certification program. eFLIPL is a very user-friendly system that helps units manage the FLIPL process. Managing FLIPLs becomes easier the more you do it.
Other hot topics the battalion S-4 handles are turn-ins and lateral transfers or proposed sourcing decisions. Communicating the current status for each line item gets you in good graces with your battalion XO and helps your battery/company/troop (B/C/T) XOs manage their property books.
Work with the B/C/T XOs to facilitate completing your tasks. As the battalion S-4, you are not the action officer for most tasks. Your job is to facilitate the systems put in place, plan as far in advance as possible, and report progress. The B/C/T XOs are your direct lines of communication with the subordinate units and are always your best source of information. Having a great relationship with these XOs makes your life significantly easier and makes them much more willing to accomplish the tasks you need to have completed. I have seen many times when the collective council of XOs does not like a staff member; they play the rubber ball/glass ball game and immediately turn all the tasks given by that particular staff officer into rubber balls, meaning they drop the ball, knowing the ball will bounce right back up. Building rapport with the XOs makes them treat more of your tasks as glass balls instead.
Knowledge vs. People Skills
After the six-month mark had passed, I still did not know all the answers being asked of me. “What is the process of turning in this damaged equipment?” “What do I do to initiate a turn-in?” “How do I get this new equipment that’s not on my unit’s modified table of organization and equipment?” I still do not know all the answers after three years as the S-4. The most important advice I can provide in being a successful S-4 is to realize this job is 20 percent knowledge and 80 percent people skills. Creating great relationships with everyone you work with is invaluable as you become the S-4 and return to being the new second lieutenant with nothing but questions. I was a new captain asking my NCOIC a stupid captain question at least 10 times daily. Accept that you are no longer the subject matter expert and cannot be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. Someone knows the answer; you just have to ask the questions. The same goes for your brigade counterparts and fellow battalion S-4s. We created a group chat titled eFLIPL Support Group and would constantly bounce ideas and ask for help through this chat. It became a handy resource. Developing these relationships makes it much more likely you will receive support when you ask and help you accomplish your battalion’s mission.
Get out of the office and meet with the supply teams in your subordinate units. They do the daily groundwork and have so much knowledge to pass on to you and let you know what is happening in the supply systems you are responsible for facilitating.
While these individuals may have been the scariest people in your battalion when you were a lieutenant, they will be your best resource for information and, when in dire need, help. They will help you mature quickly with plenty of tough love but never let you fail. Remember, if you fail, they fail; failure is not an option. While they are there to help and mentor you, they do not have time to figure out all your problems because they are already too busy solving the rest of the battalion’s issues. While buried with a large amount of your work, observing how your XOs operate along with their many duties and responsibilities is valuable. Doing this lets you learn what duties and responsibilities to focus on and direct your time and effort. Additionally, it gives you a peek into the future as to what you should focus on when you become a battalion XO.
Tips for the Field
As with any other officer position in the Army, always have a map. The map is your common operating picture with the operational side of your battalion and helps you stay updated with what is going on with your subordinate units. Keep the map updated with unit locations, adjacent units, and their support nodes’ locations. Like in the garrison environment, utilize your sister battalions’ resources when it makes sense. Big analog board trackers are the easiest way to track all classes of supply. Either make them yourself or utilize unit resources to make them for you. Tailor them to capture every element of the logistics status report you receive so the data compilation is much easier for you when making your report for the brigade.
Another practice that will make you look like a rock star on the battalion staff is keeping a journal of the consumption of your battalion’s fleet. How much food and water does each unit consume? How much fuel does each unit consume during a certain training exercise? Class V is mandated for table progressions, but at a combat training center, it is pertinent to dive into the books and find how much and what type of ammunition is used during a certain type of operation, such as a breach, an assault, a nighttime operation, or a defense. Having a historical log enables you to forecast the real-world consumption of your people and your fleet and never have the awkward situation of Soldiers going hungry or vehicles running out of fuel. A great tool to use until you have that historical log for Class III is the Class III Estimation Tool, updated yearly. It has every type of vehicle and generator in the Army’s property book and provides the fuel consumption based on the type of surface you are traveling on, for how long, and how many hours you are idling. The most important rule to being the S-4, which is easy to do but will ruin your reputation if you fail, is never mess up or miss a food request.
Like everything in the Army, the doctrine is available whenever you cannot come up with the answer on your own. If you haven’t yet attended a Captain’s Career Course, I recommend purchasing or borrowing the MDMP Lessons and Best Practices Handbook. It goes step-by-step on completing MDMP and your role as the S-4 for each step. Army Doctrine Publication 4-0, Sustainment, is the publication that has all the answers for how you should perform your warfighting function. When faced with any lost, missing, or damaged equipment, reference Army Regulation 735-5, Property Accountability Policies, to find answers to all your questions. Another great resource of information is Army Sustainment University. They provide resources, tools, publications, etc., to anyone who asks for it.
Being a battalion S-4 is considered the worst job for a combat arms branch officer, but it has been the most rewarding position I have held thus far. Understanding the logistics process of how the Army works has enlightened me and tempered my expectations for receiving supplies. It has shown me the immense amount of work and coordination necessary to make any unit function. Additionally, it has put me in a very opportunistic position to work directly alongside the battalion XO and plan with the battalion S-3. While you must be a leader in the role, you must also seize the opportunity to learn from these individuals.
Capt. Christopher Drisko is currently the Charlie Battery commander for 1-41 Field Artillery Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, at Fort Stewart, Georgia. He was the battalion S-4 when the brigade deployed to Europe in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. He has also been a battalion S-4 at Fort Carson, Colorado. He has a master’s in management and leadership from Webster University, Missouri.
This article was published in the Summer 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.