The intent of the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency's (USAMMA's) medical liaison officer (M–LNO) program is to ensure that operational units maintain an increased state of readiness regardless of where they are in the Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) cycle. This program allows USAMMA to be more responsive and flexible while quickly addressing customer concerns and requests. The M–LNO program's current structure within the continental United States is meeting customer expectations. However, an M–LNO's ability to provide the same level of support to customers throughout a deployment is questionable. This article provides an overview and analysis of the current M–LNO program and a recommendation for expanding the program to benefit intratheater customers.
USAMMA M–LNO Program Overview
As the Army continues to evolve structurally and operationally, so does the concept of support that enables its success. In support of the Army Campaign Plan, the Army Medical Department and USAMMA continue to seek greater avenues of streamlined support for customers throughout the force. Army units focus on future missions as early as possible in the ARFORGEN process, which results in units that are task organized, equipped, manned, and trained to become an expeditionary force package.
In January 2009, in response to a tremendous increase in workload and the implementation of the ARFORGEN concept, USAMMA embedded M–LNOs in the 404th Army Field Support Brigade (AFSB) at Fort Lewis, Washington, the 406th AFSB at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the 407th AFSB at Fort Hood, Texas.
The mission of the M–LNO is to provide early detection and resolution of medical logistics problems affecting unit and materiel readiness. To fulfill their mission of providing medical materiel life-cycle management, the M–LNOs assist stakeholders and customers, including Active Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve medical units, in their immediate geographical areas.
M–LNOs coordinate with the supported commands to make logistics assessments and determine historical trends and the current status in order to provide preventive and corrective measures for improving unit and command readiness. They also provide before, during, and after deployment support for installation training exercises, combat training center rotations, and full-spectrum operations to all units with home-station medical assets. The M–LNO is the commander's single point of contact for medical materiel life-cycle management and equipment support.
The value of the USAMMA M–LNO program is evident in its ability to meet customer expectations nearly seamlessly while garnering consistent customer feedback. An internal review documented the efforts of M–LNOs as noted both inside and outside of the medical community. These recognitions included special verbal commendations at the 2009 Army Forces Command Combat Support Hospital Commander's Conference and the 2009 Army Materiel Command (AMC) Reset Conference.
In addition to these accolades, the program has also received positive customer feedback, such as an email sent by Major Joseph K. Weaver in February 2010 that stated, “Medical LNOs are invaluable for customer service and assistance during fieldings. The U.S. Army Special Operations Command relies on M–LNOs to: coordinate with USAMMA for required delivery dates, arrival, and staging of medical sets, kits, and outfits, as well as stand-alone equipment prior to Materiel Fielding Team (MFT) arrival.”
As a result of this and many similar comments, USAMMA expanded the program and placed M–LNOs with the 1st Battalion, 407th Army Field Support Brigade, at Fort Carson, Colorado, and the Army Field Support Battalion Fort Campbell, 406th AFSB.
M–LNO Program Analysis and Results
Since January 2009, USAMMA M–LNOs have continued to work diligently to become the operating forces' synchronization point for ARFORGEN requirements. An analysis of the program's workload during 2009 revealed that each M–LNO provided technical expertise and support to an average of 12, and at times as many as 20, customers per month. A more in-depth look at a typical weekly workload revealed that each M–LNO spends approximately 52 percent of his time providing direct customer assistance, 25 percent of his time conducting customer and product research, and the remaining 23 percent of his time attending left-behind equipment and reset meetings and performing administrative functions.
Having M–LNOs on site allows for increased accuracy in identifying medical materiel and equipment needs. Their dedicated efforts and ability to serve as synchronization points of contact at the unit level assisted USAMMA in executing 528 medical materiel fieldings and direct-ship missions in fiscal year 2009 —a 117-percent increase in workload from the previous fiscal year.
The effort of each M–LNO is effective and valued at all levels of command. During a recent discussion, 406th AFSB commander Colonel Kenneth C. Dyer stated, “I fully concur with the value of the USAMMA M–LNO program. It provides customer units [with] an on-location point of contact to address USAMMA equities. I am convinced that we have encountered less Reset friction for medical specific systems as a result of [the M–LNO's] work in the 406th.”
Expanding M–LNO Use
As USAMMA continues to evaluate the M–LNO program, further expansion is the next logical step. A recommendation to place additional M–LNOs with the 401st AFSB at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, and the 402d AFSB at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, in order to assist with theater drawdown, expansion, theater-provided equipment, and ARFORGEN is currently being considered.
In a 2004 in-office publication, General Paul J. Kern, then commander of the Army Materiel Command, provided some valuable insight into the importance of having a logistics-forward mindset, stating, ”Logistics provides the physical base for both operational readiness and combat effectiveness. Logistics is inseparable from combat and must march in lock-step with strategic, tactical, and operational planning and considerations. Logistics is not sequential, but parallel—and must be harmonized and integrated with combat planning and operations.”
Placing M–LNOs at these locations does exactly what General Kern suggests. This concept projects the presence of the medical materiel enterprise forward and provides an on-the-ground point of contact for medical materiel life-cycle management assistance and problem resolution in a manner similar to the Army Materiel Command's Logistics Assistance Program.
The USAMMA M–LNO program is a sustainment effort moving in the right direction. The attributes of the program ensure that units maintain an increased state of readiness regardless of where they are in the ARFORGEN cycle. It provides USAMMA with the ability to provide increased responsiveness and flexibility while reacting quickly to customer concerns and requests in a nearly seamless manner. If approved, further expansion of this program will benefit the Army Medical Department's continued efforts to provide world-class healthcare support to the warfighter.