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Strategic Leadership Competencies Cannot Wait

Modularization has greatly affected the Army over the last several years, particularly
through the development and implementation of modified force structures. These modified sustainment force structures put a large amount of capability in the brigade combat team’s (BCT’s) brigade support battalion (BSB) and forward support companies (FSCs).

Under the old force structure, command relationships in a divisional unit were relatively linear and direct. The forward support battalions and main support battalions provided direct support to their respective brigades, but they were under the operational control (OPCON) of the division support command (DISCOM). Who was supporting who was clear cut, and any support issues requiring adjudication above the battalion level were passed to the DISCOM.

The modified force structures drive the need for leaders to adapt to new doctrine. Along with adaptability comes a requirement for quicker development of certain strategic leadership competencies. Field Manual (FM) 6–22, Army Leadership: Competent, Confident, and Agile, defines strategic leadership as the type of leadership that occurs at the highest levels of the organization. But strategic leadership competencies have now gained much greater applicability down to the tactical level. Because of the modification of sustainment force structures, two of these competencies in particular, communicating and achieving consensus, hold greater relevance in today’s operating environment. According to FM 6–22, in order for a strategic leader to achieve consensus, he must use peer leadership rather than strict positional authority to monitor progress toward the desired end state.

The modular structure assigns the BSB to the BCT. This relationship is very clear, and it makes sense for the BCT commander to own his sustainment assets. Coordination between the BSB and supported battalions with regard to the use of FSCs is essential to ensuring mission success and a clear understanding of administrative and training responsibilities. Effective communication, especially among battalion executive officers and operations officers, ensures that the FSCs are fully supported and not caught in the middle of disputes between staff members. If the staff members of these units are communicating effectively through clear and open dialog, issues should not have to be elevated to the battalion commanders or BCT commander.

Higher sustainment commands tend to be more complicated. Sustainment brigades are not under the OPCON of a division. The habitual support relationship does not exist as it once did with the DISCOMs. In its mission of providing support on an area basis, a sustainment brigade supports a wide mix of units that are often from divisions other than the one with which it is affiliated.

Although a “plug and play” concept is effective for building combat power, the sustainment brigade must deal with the challenges of subordinate units residing at different locations and coming from different components than in a garrison environment. While deployed, the deployment timelines of the combat service support battalions, which are assigned to sustainment brigades, tend to vary. Consequently, sustainment brigades are constantly dealing with changeovers caused by their units’ staggered arrivals and departures.

Because of the many different sustainment force structures and the sustainment brigade’s area support mission, it is critical to achieve consensus in terms of what support can be provided to the BSBs. The command and control structure creates challenges at times. Support relationships are not as simple as saying “this is who I work for and also who I support” because these entities are very rarely, if ever, one and the same at the higher level. Sustainment field-grade officers especially must work with their peers and senior leaders to achieve consensus so their units receive the requisite support. This requires open communication and an appreciation of each other’s missions and requirements. The ability to influence others outside of the chain of command through communicating and achieving consensus is a skill set that should be obtained before reaching the strategic level.

The development and implementation of modified force structures has affected sustainment units’ command and control relationships and also the skill sets that are required for field-grade officers to be successful in those units. Although the BCT has a great amount of sustainment capability, competing requirements for external resources require field-grade officers to improve their communication and negotiation skills. Without these skills, mission accomplishment becomes much harder than necessary and, in extreme cases, operations may be hindered. Logisticians must figure out how to work through these sustainment relationships and ensure that the warfighters continue to receive the best support possible.

Major Amy L. Gouge is the executive officer of the 10th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry). She has a bachelor’s degree from the United States Military Academy and is a graduate of the Intermediate Level Education, Airborne, Rigger, and Jumpmaster Courses.

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