Europe currently has over 100,000 U.S. service members strategically postured to deter Russia and train for large-scale combat operations (LSCO). The Army is essential in this mission due to its rotational presence and committed land power. As a result of recent Russian actions and war against Ukraine, the Army has expanded upon its commitment to Europe, specifically along its eastern flank. The establishment of V Corps Headquarters forward command post and U.S. Army Garrison Poland proves this point. However, units in the Baltic states operate much closer to Russia’s doorstep. The strategic importance of this region is recognized by the Army, and its rotational deployments are focused on a heel-to-toe presence and consistent training with NATO allies. Leaders within these units are entrusted not only to lead dynamic forces through complex tactical operations but also to overcome logistical hurdles while keeping LSCO at the forefront of their minds.
One of the most critical considerations in training LSCO in the Baltic states is the sustainment warfighting function. Sustainment is not only at the foundation of all Army operations but is a prerequisite for conducting realistic training throughout the region. Logistics missions in this area are intricate and challenging, but it must be recognized that their execution is invaluable training that will ensure success in war. In short, the best means of achieving operational success and preparedness is through informed, decisive, and synchronized sustainment efforts. The remarkable achievement of Task Force Mustang, which comprised the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, and its attachments from the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, proved this true. Task Force Mustang was effective in training for LSCO alongside NATO allies during a nine-month rotational deployment to Camp Herkus, Lithuania, due to its ability to overcome frequent logistical challenges. Specifically, Task Force Mustang overcame operational demands by synchronizing logistics with effective command and control over a vast area of operations.
Task Force Mustang accomplished its overall mission, but countless sustainment-related lessons were learned throughout the rotational deployment. The task force’s primary sustainment experiences to draw from were fuel accountability, ammunition management, and transportation movement requests (TMRs). A comprehensive analysis of these challenges and a review of unit actions culminated with realistic recommendations. These recommendations inform the sustainment community on the logistical struggles of an armored task force training in the Baltic states while preparing the U.S. for LSCO. This review also considers sustainment operations throughout the European Command (EUCOM) and offers insight for future rotational units oriented on similar objectives.
Fuel is an operational necessity often taken for granted by rotational units due to home station availability. However, the flow of fuel to forward operating sites (FOSs) across theater requires meticulous accountability. Fuel-related challenges experienced by Task Force Mustang included the risk of misaligned fuel deliveries, poor coordination between adjacent or subordinate units, and inaccurate accountability or reporting. Task Force Mustang quickly learned fuel standards must be implemented immediately upon arrival at FOS.
Understanding storage capabilities, enforcing fuel hours, forecasting training demands, and creating a common operating picture are prerequisites for efficient fuel operations. Establishing fuel accountability and reporting systems was vital to rapidly relaying FOS fuel capacity and quantities on hand to higher headquarters. Additionally, fuel operations must be adequately resourced and compared against the long-range training calendar in training resource meetings with key leadership present to achieve shared understanding. If co-located with an adjacent unit or operating with NATO allies, fuel accountability officers must maintain situational awareness of all applicable training calendars, capabilities, and demands. Task Force Mustang established these systems early and prioritized fuel operations, which allowed units to train as planned.
Additional lessons learned included the importance of interoperability with the host nation, which could commit resources and improve fuel operations. Enforcing strict monthly fuel accountability reports and understanding the intricate details of a fuel delivery well ahead of time while holding subordinate units accountable for the fuel standard operating procedures (SOPs) ensures long-range fuel requirements are met.
Ammunition is the most challenging class of supply to manage in theater for a variety of reasons. As the unit works to become fit to fight, it’s important that an intentionally planned reception, staging, onward movement, and integration model is executed, as it will set the conditions for the entire deployment; therefore, early unit efforts must prioritize sustainment operations and ammunition management. Holding previous units accountable for improper ammunition management by completing comprehensive inventories and delaying the ammunition handover until it is accurate are invaluable practices when building a foundation for accountability. Ammunition and storage facility inventories must be detailed and include all relevant live, dunnage, residue, and facility data before accepting ownership. The process may be painful, but a controlled effort prevents worse circumstances in the future. Additionally, the synchronization of unit training plans with the detailed requirements for receiving ammunition in theater must be comprehensive.
Task Force Mustang embraced the challenge of EUCOM ammunition management by monitoring accountability systems, enforcing SOPs, utilizing the expertise of the brigade ammunition warrant officer, and building a strong relationship with the ammunition supply point (ASP). Although the ASP was often stressed by units that struggled to draw and turn in ammunition, all Task Force Mustang mission timelines were met primarily due to intentional ownership and accurate ammunition inventories.
Recommendations to improve ammunition accountability in the Baltic states include a second ASP farther east, a routine rotation of brigade ammunition warrant officers, and a comprehensive and reliable ammunition movement standard.
Finally, TMRs were the sustainment crutch for Task Force Mustang throughout the rotation. Due to an unprecedented backlog of vehicles awaiting certification under the European Agreement Concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR), TMRs became necessary for conducting fuel and ammunition operations. TMRs required near-flawless synchronization due to the volume of intermediate parties and the necessary paperwork and accompanying bureaucracy. Miscommunication, delayed follow-through, and conflicting international requirements often stalled TMRs. One such example was the unrealistic timeline that required diplomatic clearances, march credits, and cargo sheets be submitted 30 days in advance just to initiate a TMR.
Task Force Mustang quickly realized its dependence on TMRs was of the highest importance during its fit-to-fight phase and subsequent deployment operations. Funneling all ammunition TMRs through the brigade support battalion support officer was an effective method to ensure shared understanding, but the bulk and complexity of missions stressed this system regularly. TMRs for repair parts, fuel, and ammunition often had to be simultaneously executed to enable daily operations. Even with long-range predictability and detailed requirements forecasting, Task Force Mustang struggled with TMRs.
The ideal method for ensuring successful TMRs in the Baltic states is aggressive and unrelenting unit follow-through that acknowledges external theater support has competing requirements. Such practices presented an opportunity for patience and a renewed commitment by leaders. A final lesson learned about TMRs was that email traffic was often at risk of being misread or actioned late, which delayed movement. Therefore, task force leadership needed to be deliberate when submitting requests and routinely monitor TMR statuses until mission completion.
To avoid compromising timelines, the unit movement officer, support officer, and movement control team should conduct daily touchpoints. Routine synchronizations focused on the status and required actions for TMRs must be integrated into battalion and brigade SOPs and battle rhythms. Units must enforce their Command Deployment Discipline Program at echelon and appoint a movement team on battalion staff. The movement team should comprise an experienced NCO and competent junior officer with the primary responsibility of enforcing and tracking all unit movement, delegating to subordinate units, and providing a link to the battalion field grade officers.
As the Army trains for LSCO, fundamental sustainment practices must be considered. A glimpse at an armored task force in Lithuania highlights this truth by providing insight into recent supply challenges faced by a unit tasked with assurance, deterrence, and reinforcement of a region that could be the next great battlefield. It is important now more than ever to analyze the sustainment demands of units in eastern Europe and the detailed locations they train and fight from. Such analysis will prove invaluable for future operations and prepare the Army for large-scale combat with a near-peer in the Baltic states.
1st Lt. Benjamin Kenneaster is the executive officer for Combat Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. He recently served as the distribution platoon leader for Havoc Forward Support Company and as the Task Force Mustang fuel and ammunition officer in charge during a nine-month rotational deployment to Camp Herkus, Lithuania, in support of Operation European Assure, Deter, and Reinforce. He holds a Master of Science in international relations from Liberty University, Virginia. He has earned the Expert Infantryman Badge and completed the following courses: Bradley Leaders Course, Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course, Unit Movement Officer Course, European Agreement Concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR) Course, Hazardous Material Certifier Course, Space Cadre Basic Course, Fuel Handler Course, and Ammo Handler Course.
This article was published in the Winter 2024 edition of Army Sustainment.