Effects of MOOTW on CSS Units

by Lieutenant Colonel Christopher R. Paparone

There is an omnipresent debate in the Army on the effects of military operations other than war (MOOTW) on the readiness of combat units to conduct their wartime mission. In general, many argue that the corrosive effects of MOOTW could be substantial, especially if the U.S. military continues its transformation from an institution focused on killing people and destroying things to an agency employed mainly for peacekeeping and policing. However, many observers seem to think that the effect of MOOTW on combat service support (CSS) units is innocuous. In fact, some seem to think MOOTW improves CSS unit performance because "they are doing what they would do in combat." I disagree strongly with both statements. I argue that the effects of MOOTW on CSS unit wartime proficiency are, to a large extent, just as corrosive as on combat units.

Combat Arms Debate

Most Army leaders would agree that MOOTW causes some dilution of the traditional core competencies of the warfighting Army. But Army leaders are realists and understand that our National Security Strategy demands that we conduct MOOTW. This demand brings to light many deficiencies in our capability to conduct MOOTW. These deficiencies drive policies, training schedules, and materiel acquisition decisions. Under the Army Chief of Staff's vision, the Army now is programming shortcuts to generate force structure, training programs, and doctrine that will meet this growing challenge.

Deficiencies in MOOTW capability also are found at the individual and unit levels. As one newspaper article stated, "This is not the life [soldiers] expected when they signed up, ready to do battle and trained in armor, infantry, and artillery tactics. In Kosovo, . . . soldiers have had to learn to be surrogate mayors, school principals, police chiefs, social workers, and even corporate chief executive officers as they try to forge lasting peace in a land divided by centuries of hate."

The Army position seems to be that, although combat skills may deteriorate, leadership skills are honed. Yet in many cases, those same junior leaders did not join the Army to conduct peace but to wage war. The attrition rate for captains is 12 percent—relatively high. While some of this attrition is due to the enticing growth of the U.S. economy, some occurs because the missions are not what soldiers expected or were trained for.

CSS Unit Debate

The same situation holds true for CSS units. My former unit, the 47th Forward Support Battalion, 1st Armored Division, out of Baumholder, Germany, served two tours in Bosnia. Upon return from Bosnia, we studied and reported on what percent of the collective tasks listed in the battalion's mission training plan (MTP) were not experienced while in Bosnia. The MTP is a doctrinal list of all the tasks the unit is designed to accomplish in combat. We narrowed the scope to include only those tasks that were tied directly to our mission-essential task list (METL). We also estimated how many of these same tasks were not trained during a recent deployment to the Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC) in Hohenfels, Germany, under a high-intensity combat scenario.

The results showed that approximately 30 percent of the METL tasks were not experienced in Bosnia, and about 15 percent were not trained at the CMTC. Most of the differential was attributed to combat survival tasks such as support while maneuvering; night operations; nuclear, biological, and chemical defense; and operational security, such as camouflage, concealment, and light and noise discipline. We went on to estimate that only 5 percent of the tasks would not have been exercised at the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California. The reason for this lower percentage is that the NTC has enough maneuver space for an entire brigade combat team, while the CMTC can handle only one maneuver battalion at a time. Thus training at the CMTC is less taxing on brigade CSS than at the NTC.

The most remarkable result of our experience in the Bosnia operation was in the ad hoc nature of support operations in the U.S. brigade sector. Because of the base camp structure and an economy-of-force approach (dictated by the political situation), we had to disassemble the battlefield operating system for which we were designed—the brigade support area and field and combat trains system. In its place, we implemented an ad hoc return to "forward area support teams" in each base camp, supplemented by a distribution system largely operated by Brown & Root Services Corporation. Support platoon leaders, battalion S4's, soldiers, and officers operated a logistics system that was MOOTW-unique to a heavy division brigade combat team. The doctrinal brigade CSS system—one of the most difficult battlefield operating systems for a brigade commander—was not exercised.

In any case, we concluded that the corrosive effects of MOOTW ultimately were a threat to warfighting CSS METL capabilities for the brigade combat team. Because our unit returned to Bosnia for a second tour, we also demonstrated that to return to the band of excellence for CSS in warfighting takes approximately 6 to 8 months, depending on available resources. (This time period is a bit longer than that reported by the Center for Army Lessons Learned [CALL], which reported 3 to 6 months for CSS units. Because of the tempo of training and operations in U.S. Army, Europe, I would accept our figures over CALL's.)

In response to those who think CSS units are equally or better trained by virtue of a MOOTW deployment, I disagree. The CSS battlefield operating system is one of the most challenging systems in a brigade-level, high-intensity combat operation. Our analysis showed that, while CSS individual proficiency may be sustained in MOOTW, the complexity of supporting defensive or offensive maneuver is not. This is the challenge our combat and CSS leaders must understand and meet head on.

Lieutenant Colonel Christopher R. Paparone, a Quartermaster Corps officer, is a student at the Army War College. He has served in a variety of command and staff positions in training, MOOTW, and war. He has been selected for the Army War College Professorship Program.