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The Corps Logistics Planning and Decision Cycle

Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC–I) is the tactical unit responsible for command and
control of operations in Iraq. When I became the chief of plans for MNC–I C–4, I encountered a cacophony of various agendas, timelines, and priorities. In order to accomplish my job as a logistics staff officer successfully, several questions needed to be answered: What were the real requirements, and how would I facilitate moving a corps headquarters forward without becoming an obstacle in the operational environment? More importantly, how do I ensure synchronization between theater logistics agencies and the corps? What immediate steps would I need to take to meet the planning horizon requirements and the commander’s intent for sustainment and to prioritize sustainment lines of effort for the future?

I mentally went through the steps I needed to take to organize the chaos. First, determine the battlefield relationships—who were the theater multipliers and what were their roles. Second, identify MNC–I’s objectives and goals and how sustainment worked with operational objectives to meet the commander’s intent. Third, determine internal and external battle rhythms in order to understand when to raise sustainment issues, questions, and concerns. Conveying a vital piece of information to the wrong staff member or in the wrong venue made it unactionable and irrelevant, so I would have to understand all the players and their roles.

Adding to the complexity of decisionmaking was the ongoing paradigm shift in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) from a kinetic operational environment, focused on counterinsurgency, to a nonkinetic one focused on nation-building and transitioning responsibilities to the Government of Iraq. By early 2008, after redeploying the “surge” brigades, we began the move toward the “terminal” phase of the war in terms of logistics support. From mainly pushing full trucks of materiel into Iraq, we transitioned to pushing full trucks of materiel out of Iraq.

As the paradigm slowly shifted, the question became how to coordinate all of the required players on the battlefield while maintaining support to the warfighter without provoking anxiety. This was not just a matter of changing phases represented by distinct segments depicted in an operation order; it was a matter of changing a mindset. Staff at all levels, from tactical to strategic, had to understand that the policies and procedures for the operation’s sustainment phase were the opposite of the policies and procedures needed for the terminal phase.

Understand Operational Requirements

Because Iraq has so many “wicked” problem sets, it was difficult for a newly formed staff to focus on its priority. However, the MNC–I commander made his lines of operation the focus of everything that the staff did, in essence narrowing the staff’s field of vision so that they could focus their efforts to meet his intent.

One of the major differences between operations and logistics in this environment is that all the tools for operations are inside the country under one central command structure, while most of the tools needed for sustainment are outside the country and in several layers of different commands. The operational mission set is one large set of problems, while the sustainment mission set is another large set of problems. To define the highest priority, the sustainers had to separate the sustainment problem set from the operational problem set, redefine operations and objectives at the theater level, and then pull the problem sets back together.

It was easier to look at the process as a set of overlays. The operational overlay defined the operational mission set or lines of operation, while the sustainment overlay defined the sustainment mission set or lines of operation.

Determine Sustainment Requirements

The three operational lines of operation were security, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) capability, and civil capacity. The sustainment lines of operation became creating a self-sustaining ISF, reposturing theater logistics, and providing sustainment. Based on strategic planning and direction, my unit understood before it deployed that its mission had taken a dramatic turn from sustainment to the terminal phase of the operation and that it would be responsible for setting the stage for the next phase of OIF.

One of our objectives early on was theater logistics reposturing. We started simply by determining what was truly excess (from all classes of supply) and then quantifying that excess in order to reallocate it to another location in Iraq or ship it to a receiving depot. As the lead operational headquarters, it was our responsibility to develop and validate policies and procedures for retrograde and to ensure that we were pushing as hard as possible to return all unnecessary equipment and commodities without impacting operations. This was a dramatic shift from front-haul efficiencies to enhancing back-haul efficiencies.


Once the terminal phase began, it was important to take a critical look at all equipment that came into country and put it through an intensive process of equipment comparisons, timelines, and operational need to stop the flow of equipment into country and start to balance the “real” need to the “perceived” need.

On the C–4 operations side, the staff started drilling down into their commodities while determining performance measures and addressing the question, what can we get rid of now? Examples of excess were ammunition and equipment. Much of both was continuing to come into country, and some was no longer needed.

For ammunition, the C–4 staff found that some policies in theater were not synchronized between Kuwait and Iraq. Those procedures had been created for the sustainment phase and had worked very well. However, once U.S. forces began orienting toward the terminal phase, all procedures across the theater had to be revalidated. We had to develop procedures that reduced the amount of ammunition coming north across the border from Kuwait and increased the number of trucks heading south. In other words, we had to reverse the normal way of thinking.

That caused a theater-wide change of priorities, procedures, and processes. Even routine things like deployments and redeployments became extremely complicated.

Planning Versus Operations

The C–4 plans section was beefed up to allow for the coverage of the planning horizons within the operational environment. We still had to support C–3 future operations and C–5 future plans. Both C–3 and C–5 focused predominantly on the operational environment and were not oriented toward retrograde. We had to work a viable plan and then convince the other staff elements that we were truly in the terminal phase of the operation and that logistics was going to be the linchpin for that phase. We knew the time was short. Once retrograde planning became accepted, the sustainment mission would again be propelled by the operational environment, so for feasibility, we needed to work out a viable plan regardless of the environment.

Changing a way of thinking at the theater level—across so many commands—and changing other staffs’ basic procedures could cause more negative effects than positive. The C–4 staff planned to use most of the same procedures and venues that were already in place in order to reduce the amount of chaos inflicted on the theater’s sustainment operations.

Identify Theater Multipliers

We needed to identify all the players in theater and their roles in supporting operations. MNF–I helps maintain security in Iraq by preventing and deterring terrorism and protecting the territory of the country. The goal of MNF–I is to help the Iraqi people complete their political transition, permit the United Nations and the international community to facilitate Iraq’s reconstruction by forming a partnership between the Government of Iraq and MNF–I, and ensure that the two coordinate.

The Army Central Command (ARCENT) headquarters in Kuwait provides command and control for all U.S. Army forces entering the theater of operations. The 1st Theater Sustainment Command provides joint command and control of logistics and select forces supporting combat operations across the full spectrum of conflict and supports redeployment of rotating forces and sustainment of operating forces in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility. The CENTCOM Deployment Distribution Operations Center’s mission is to establish a single entity to integrate total force and materiel flow from the port of debarkation to a designated in-theater destination. The Army Materiel Command provides acquisition support and logistics.

Nesting Theater Sustainment

During my first OIF deployment, Iraq had two distinct layers—operational and logistics—that had their own distinct processes and procedures, characteristics, functions, roles, and timelines. Operations and logistics were still separated fundamentally. The distance between the two layers increased or decreased depending on how diverse the missions were. For example, if the warfighters were still conducting counterinsurgency operations while the logisticians performed retrograde, the operator and the sustainer diverged. The sustainer set the stage for the operator to orient toward retrograde operations, at which point the operator and the sustainer converged.

The sustainer and the operator constantly diverge and converge toward the same objectives, just on different timelines. The hardest part for a sustainer is determining when to proactively diverge ahead of the operator in order to eventually converge again in order to keep pace.

We, in C–4, were about to diverge again in order to ensure that the operators would succeed. One of the biggest issues we found was planning deployments and redeployments. So we had to push the sustainment planning timeline out 4 to 6 months. If we reduced what came into country and increased what went out of country using the normal processes and procedures that were already in place, we could start to execute before we were actually told to, giving the sustainment community a headstart to drawing down.

The process would start slowly and methodically. We could start by answering questions such as where do we ship equipment, how do we do reset, and what do we leave behind? We knew that the answers to these questions were linked to cost.

The C–4 staff could not begin to answer questions for the Department of the Army level or higher, but the questions had to be asked to get an answer, and they had to be answered before orders could be generated. MNF–I became the C–4’s conduit for communicating with those higher levels, trying to get answers on processes.

The C–4’s tasks were to address all the issues that it could, decide if executing sustainment would affect the operational community, and execute, if possible, while coordinating with the theater to ensure that it did not inadvertently upset any theater processes and procedures. The C–4 had to incorporate into a single planning battle rhythm for drawdown all of the ground logistics elements that had been performing at a steady state for so long, filling their own unique requirements.

When talking to the division logistics planners and the expeditionary sustainment command (ESC) planners, we found no venue for discussing logistics issues at the corps level. Therefore, MNC–I C–4 created a logistics planning process, starting with the operational synchronization forums provided by C–3 operations, C–3/5 future operations and plans, and C–5 plans. Their briefings and planning objec­tives were first introduced into a corps internal logis­tics planning meeting using Adobe Breeze (a computer-driven collaborative capability). The C–4 incorporated the major players within MNC–I’s logistics footprint, including—

  • The Multi-National Division/Force (MND/F) logistics planners.
  • The ESC planners.
  • The Army field support brigade (AFSB) supporting units in the MNC–I area.

This drove the development of the decision cycle for logistics. MNC–I C–4 had to be the nucleus of logistics throughout the theater and truly drive the train.

Introducing a new forum takes time. How would the C–4 form a logistics planning venue with appropriate-level information (both input and output) that was useful, well-received, and gained and retained the appropriate level of participation? I continued to explain to my team that active participation was based on trust. Each level of command found its unique way of getting feedback to us, through formal or informal means. Logistics planning in the past had been done at the corps level in a very fast-paced vacuum. With the looming operation of retrograde ahead, the vacuum needed to open up. We needed the MND/F, ESC, and AFSB to confirm feasibility and allow parallel planning at each level of command to occur. The question of reachback had to be answered once the questions of feasibility and “how bad” were answered.

Once the C–4 was able to provide the theater’s sustainment commands with information that it knew would affect their internal processes, it began to understand how long it would take to get answers concerning feasibility and reachback. Deployments and redeployments guided the process to start retrograde. The C–4 staff extended the timelines for planning for retrograde and synchronizing base closures and existing operational planning efforts. Base closures affected planning because of the number of trucks required to shut down a base.

To make the process more efficient, we determined what products from the base closures could go directly to their destinations instead of to a redistribution point. We found that bringing all the players together to address the problems of base closures increased the number and awareness of problems associated with base closures and the ability to get answers from a much higher level than MNC–I.

The problems had been present, but each sustainment command was trying to handle the problems on its own. Once the commands got together to discuss the issues and put a system in place that included base closure, we found that we had common problems and discussed how to handle them, which sometimes included changing processes and procedures at a much higher level.

Reintegrating Into MNC–I Operations

While the C–4 was making fundamental changes across the theater, it needed to ensure that it was still fulfilling the requirements for all three sustainment lines of operations: self-sustaining ISF, theater logistics reposturing, and sustainment. At the C–4 level, the theater logistics reposturing line of operation could make or break the theater.

Validating priorities across the theater and synchronizing current and future plans and operations were critical. Priorities were validated weekly through a one-page C–4 sustainment synchronization tool that nested in MNC–I’s priority synchronization chart describing planning and resource allocation across all planning horizons. For C–4, the microlevel was a 180-day sustainment synchronization calendar developed from the 180-day operations synchronization calendar; this calendar incorporated timelines for base closures, deployments, and redeployments since deployments and redeployments were the catalysts for determining how much came in and out of theater.

The highest priority was to stay tied closely to the operations community. Every effort toward reposturing was a necessity, but pushing too hard or too quickly and undermining the operational mission by upsetting the sustainment line of operation would affect the MNC–I commander and his mission. We had to balance the push for change to meet the reposturing effort while ensuring that operations were supported. Then we had to figure out what was not a priority. Reposturing efforts were oriented toward lower MNC–I priorities within Iraq, and sustainment efforts were oriented toward higher MNC–I priorities. When looking at effectiveness versus efficiency, the sustainment and self-sustaining ISF efforts focused on effectiveness while the reposturing efforts focused on efficiency.

Plans for Operations Handoff

A 180-day synchronization calendar was developed to cover ISF operations, deployments and redeployments, infrastructure timelines, and political objectives. This calendar was a one-page snapshot by month that categorized major operational and strategic objectives. Because each operation had so many tasks, two pages per month were added for sustainment, incorporating timelines for base closure and deployments and redeployments, to augment the operation’s single page, which outlined the “four Rs” (retrograde, reposture, redistribution, and redeployment).

Because each problem set had its own timeline for handoff from planning to operations, we had to create new sustainment processes that included handoff timelines. Since transportation was our limiting factor, deployments and redeployments, base closures, and normal sustainment became our benchmarks. We used the four Rs to develop the equations used to analyze the initial requirements for transportation and to standardize what theater multipliers were needed.

The MNC–I staff established terminology for telling external organizations what help it needed. The following terms are not in accordance with any known publication because the requirements were determined specifically for drawdown in Iraq and oriented on theater-level sustainment requirements.

“Retrograde” was defined as “no longer needed materiel and headed out of theater,” requiring theater assistance for both logistics and transportation.

The terms “reposture” and “redistribution” were both used to indicate that an element within Iraq was moving to another location within Iraq. (Element is a nondoctrinal term for a unit or piece of equipment.) The AFSB would have to look at the new requirements to see if they could be met with the capabilities in the new area or if there was an overlap in capability, which meant excess equipment. The difference had to do with the size of the element. Were we moving a few pieces that could be moved as a normal transportation movement release? Or were we moving a large brigade combat team (BCT) that needed additional transportation and logistics assets to accomplish the mission as quickly and efficiently as possible?

Redistribution usually meant equipment shifted between BCTs, which involved property book realignments that would increase the timeline. Reposture had a completely different set of requirements, usually involving base closures. Once these terms and their informal connotations became common knowledge, they provided external organizations with the ability to plan and hasten decisions on feasibility and timelines without causing friction across the theater.

“Operationalizing logistics” became another com­mon term. It basically meant taking the empirical formulas of logistics and putting them into the “so what” context for the operator. Logistics is hard; it means using math, sometimes at the graduate level. An operator does not care how much math is required or how the task will be achieved. The operator only cares about the bottom line—the ability to accomplish the mission.

The final step to operationalizing logistics is working logistics with the mindset of an operator. Logisticians mostly come up with the necessary math to answer their basic questions, but few determine how that basic question will affect all other basic logistics questions and processes and procedures. When we put all the math problems together to answer all the wicked problems that have been asked individually, how does executing the answer for one problem affect all the intertwining problems on the battlefield? The answer to that question becomes the real answer to operationalizing logistics.

The staff functions, capabilities, and procedures to accomplish the logistics mission differ greatly among units. Some of the lessons learned by MNC–I C–4 were as follows—

  • One headquarters needs to be central in facilitating all supporting efforts in a multilayered command system. Defining a logistics framework to support that operational headquarters and unifying all supporting players is a tough job and is based on relationships, socialization, and command emphasis.
  • A staff officer needs to understand where and how to affect change. Change does not happen as quickly at the corps level as it does in the brigade.
  • All parties need to reevaluate the value of video teleconferences, meetings, and so forth. These questions must be answered: What is the purpose? What is the end state? Who does this affect? Who really needs to know this information? Is this information informative, or is it just information? Who is the audience? What is the central message that you want to convey?
  • Each supporting logistics headquarters needs concurrent planning efforts for its intrinsic mission in order to facilitate the main effort’s planning horizons. This is done by laying out how information will flow between each headquarters and maximizing the venues to their fullest capacity.
  • Socializing ideas across a theater with so many headquarters takes time for all players to process and begin execution. The process should be started early by anticipating the requirement and trying to help the rest of the theater to understand and be prepared for the inevitable decision at the staff officer level.
  • Try not to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information. Like anything else, cut it into bite-sized pieces, prioritize the information, and address it one piece at a time.
  • Determine what information is really needed, and figure out who really needs to act on that information or who really needs to know.
  • Figure out what is important and what is not. Each headquarters has its unique buttons. Be sensitive to them, even though you may not understand the ramifications. If you understand how each item affects the headquarters and how it plays into the overall theater synchronization process, then the system will work for you when you need it to work.

While the logistics decisionmaking cycle, or execution cycle, is still in its infancy, as well as the logistics planning cycle, the emphasis and need for one combined theater will be inevitable as reposturing increases in speed. Operationalizing logistics, assigning responsibility for actions, and more importantly, having everyone take an active role in the future will be the cornerstone for meeting the Presidential draw­down timeline.

Lieutenant Colonel Millicen A. Dill is assigned to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Allied Command Transformation at Norfolk, Virginia. She holds a B.S. degree in biology from Old Dominion University and a M.B.A. degree from St. Mary’s College in Missouri and is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College.

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