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Training Logisticians for the Current and Future Operational Environments

As they progress in their careers, Army officers receive training and education based on the jobs they will most likely perform at their next levels. For logistics officers, the education is heavily focused on the science of logistics. But is this sufficient? Are we really training our logisticians for the current and future operational environments?

How Logistics Officers Are Trained

Logistics officers begin their careers in one of the basic logistics branches of Ordnance, Quartermaster, or Transportation. What they learn at the Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC) is branch specific and focused on Army regulations, leadership, and technical and tactical skills.

After completing the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course (CLC3), officers from all three basic branches transition to the Logistics branch. CLC3 prepares officers to command Soldiers at the company level and to serve as staff officers at the battalion and brigade levels. The course curriculum focuses on technical, tactical, and leadership competencies.

After successfully serving as company commanders and staff officers, officers are promoted to the rank of major and attend Intermediate Level Education (ILE). ILE is grounded in warfighting doctrine and designed to prepare new field-grade officers for their next 10 years of service. Graduates are expected to have acquired the technical, tactical, and leadership skills needed to succeed at higher levels of responsibility and authority.

The education and training of Army logisticians promote the concept that logistics is a science rooted in mathematical calculations. The three institutional education programs for logistics officers—BOLC, CLC3, and ILE—emphasize learning doctrine and the science of logistics. This intense scientific and mathematical approach creates a frame of reference in which a logistician is the equivalent of a cog in a machine. This builds a false expectation that they will operate within a closed system.

For example, the Support Operations Phase II Course (a course mandated for all logisticians at ILE) spends a great deal of time teaching about the nine different Standard Army Management Information Systems, including their functions, locations, maintenance, and management. But, contrary to this systematic emphasis, Logistics branch officers must also be able to deal with matters beyond simple problems of supply. According to Department of the Army Pamphlet 600–3, Commissioned Officer Professional Development and Career Management, “LG [Logistics branch] officers are effective in managing, leading, and changing large organizations. They are skilled in governance, statesmanship, and diplomacy. A logistician understands cultural context and works effectively across it.” Such requirements are outside the scope of doctrine and science. If these are in fact primary goals, then the education of officers must address art as well as science.

Logistics Education Training Model

To depict the current education and training of Logistics branch officers, I have developed the Logistics Education Training Model (see chart below). This model illustrates an environment in which art and science work together to solve logistics challenges. I intentionally avoided a linear, progressive representation. Challenges faced by logisticians fall on a continuum that is simplistically represented by the double-headed arrow titled “problem spectrum.” The model requires the logistician to examine the operational environment, consider where the problem lies within the continuum, and draw on education and experience to aim for a solution.

Emanating from the center ring are four triangles: complexity, complicatedness, chance, and uncertainty. These triangles attempt to represent how the environment contains increased quantities of these elements as you move outward. For example, if you have a problem requiring pure creativity, it will be in an environment of great complexity, complicatedness, chance, and uncertainty.

At the center of the model is math, the tool of logic and a mechanism for science. Math is theoretical and involves calculations. Problems solved using math are self-evident or have a full structure. At this level, only one right answer exists, and it is found by learning and executing the correct mechanical technique or computation.

The second ring, rules of science, is where theory meets matter. Science builds on math through manipulation and methodology. The structure ranges from simple to complicated, or it can have many parts. At this level, science uses mathematical calculations to compare and relate structures; it establishes rules for dealing with problems. Here, there may be more than one right answer but only one end state.

The third ring is termed “professional art” because it relies on practices, habits, and traits. Understanding at this level occurs as knowledge, skill, and experience intertwine. Professional art moves beyond order to consider other factors (such as friction and chance) and their effect on the order of math and science. Several options are available for understanding problems at this level, and developing solutions requires knowledge and evaluation. The art is professional because it relies on a profession’s practices, habits, and traits.

The pinnacle of art occurs in the outermost ring, pure creativity. Pure creativity requires a logistician to identify what is possible and impossible when he has no experience in the subject or when no order is evident. It is here that the combination of math, science, and professional art are required to handle the unexpected and unforeseen.

Contrary to theoretical intentions and the practical realities that logisticians face in the field, the bulk of institutional education falls entirely within the innermost math and rules of science rings. This is depicted by the “weight of instruction” triangle that extends from the center and barely enters into the professional art ring. The gap facing our institutional education and training is the lack of development in the professional art and pure creativity arenas, which are necessary for problem solving. The way logisticians are educated leads to their inability to move beyond the technical aspects of logistics and leaves commanders constrained.

How Education Should Change

If logisticians are to adapt quickly, then education and training in the art of logistics, coupled with imagination, creativity, and knowledge, must be integrated into our doctrine, institutions, and training. To meet these challenges, I present another version of the Logistics Education Training Model as a representation for logistics education and training that provides core instruction equally weighted in all areas (see chart below). This core instruction provides a foundation to build on in each of the domains. Additional electives in each of the four domains would address individual shortcomings and provide instruction for current operational environments. These curricula could be taught at ILE or the Theater Logistics Studies Program because of their ability to reach the most students in a most efficient manner.

I believe that we can improve our logistics practices by including art in our officer education courses and by training logisticians to look for artful solutions. Our Army has been successful in the past without including creativity in officer education, but our current and future operational environments are going to be hard. These environments place logistics on a tipping point that can jeopardize mission accomplishment or the commander’s initiative.

The threat to logistics is not always conventional, kinetic, or lethal. Logistics threats come from environmental, materiel, and personnel arenas and include anything that can diminish logistics operations. A threat could be a port shutdown, a trucker strike, a government ministry closure, asset limitations, infrastructure deficiencies, cultural problems, time constraints, or national caveats. Threats that limit the logistics system’s responsiveness to the needs of the commander must be understood so they can be reduced, if not eliminated. With the view that the operational environment in Afghanistan is the same type of environment we will face for some time, the study of art and its dimensions and complexities is no longer optional. The need for a logistics approach that extends beyond the boundaries of science is vital to our mission, our military, and our Nation.

Beyond the tables, templates, and checklists are political, military, economic, social, informational, and infrastructure systems, with people categorized as enemies, adversaries, supporters, and neutrals. People are influenced by factors of geography, culture, religion, language, history, education, beliefs, perceived objectives and motivations, media, and personal experience. Pursuing this approach requires creativity, imagination, and innovation to come together in order to create an environment rich in understanding, knowledge, and value judgments that result in responsiveness, reduced uncertainty, and the ability of the commander to exploit opportunities. Leaders must critically think, collaborate, frame, design, plan, implement, continuously learn, and adapt logistics operations amidst ongoing change. Army education and training must support the development of such leaders.

Major Jason J. F. Murphy serves as a campaign planner in the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He has a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of North Dakota, a master’s degree in business administration from Webster University, and a master’s degree from the Army Command and General Staff College. He also completed a 1-year tour with FedEx Corporation under the Army’s Training With Industry program.

 
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