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Training Ammunition Supply Soldiers While Deployed

One of the biggest challenges facing company-level leaders is military occupational specialty
(MOS) training. With the increases in operating tempo (OPTEMPO) brought about by the rapid deployment and redeployment of sustainment forces, company commanders, first sergeants, and their warrant officer experts often have a great deal to teach their junior Soldiers and officers and not enough time to teach it.

Training distractions are a constant reality when a logistics company of any sort must balance vital garrison-support missions, essential training, and the many day-to-day tasks and requirements that face any Army unit. Inevitably, each company’s leadership team must make tough decisions about when to train, what to teach their Soldiers, and how to teach it.

Very few sustainment units in today’s Army have the luxury of conducting methodical and deliberate MOS training with sufficient resources to meet all training objectives in detail. Logistics companies across the Army often lack the time, internal experience, and tangible resources needed to conduct comprehensive individual and collective training. Companies in combat sustainment support battalions (CSSBs) in particular lack all of these essential training components while at home station because they are designed to provide support at the wholesale level. These companies are so highly specialized and operate at such elevated echelons that a corps consisting of more than 100,000 Soldiers usually contains only 1 CSSB consisting of 5 to 7 companies.

Many logistics companies also face a challenge in locating expert instructors to train the skills and tasks relevant to their Soldiers’ MOSs. While the Army suffers no shortage of sustainment experts, most of the individuals who would be ideal MOS teachers are currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan or at other hazardous locations.

This article is both a summary and a guide. On one hand, we intend to provide detailed explanations of the MOS training methods used by the 664th Ordnance Company during Operation Iraqi Freedom 09−10. The company’s intent was to build well-rounded MOS 89B ammunition specialists. To accomplish this, the company’s leaders designed an MOS training program to train Soldiers and NCOs to safely and consistently complete every individual and collective task of their MOS and skill level. The company’s methods may not be revolutionary when taken individually, but as far as we know, they have not been simultaneously implemented within a single Army company during a combat deployment.

On the other hand, this article is offered to all current and future logistics company leaders (officer, warrant officer, and enlisted) in the sincere hope that by applying similar methods, their companies can build well-rounded sustainment Soldiers throughout the force. Although the ammunition specialist’s job may not seem to have much in common with that of a shower/laundry and clothing repair specialist, the methods we outline can be modified to provide all force sustainment Soldiers with the MOS training they demand and deserve, even if the only place to do so is in a combat environment.

Ammunition Supply Training Challenges

For a number of reasons, MOS training problems are exacerbated in the area of ammunition supply support. First, ammunition supply is a very small MOS; there are fewer than 10 ammunition supply companies on active duty, and fewer than 130 warrant officers are assigned MOS 890A, ammunition technician.

Second, ammunition supply Soldiers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) possess certain skills in high density that are hard to find in maneuver, fires, and effects and operations support units (for example, forklift and rough-terrain container handler operator qualifications). At home station, the vehicle operator skills of the average ammunition supply Soldier are in high demand, making it particularly challenging for company leaders to “protect” their time for MOS training.

Third, although many sustainment units have experienced adjustments to their mission sets while at home station, few units have experienced the widespread changes that have affected ammunition supply companies. Many facilities inside the United States that were run by ammunition supply companies before the Global War on Terrorism have been transferred to civilian contractors. While this practice has guaranteed continuity of home-station operations when an ammunition supply company deploys, it has also hindered MOS training by separating ammunition Soldiers from the most natural places and situations in which to conduct that training.

The highly complex nature of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has created a situation in which an ordnance company can find itself doing the job of a totally different sort of unit. Ammunition supply companies have served in both Afghanistan and Iraq in a wide variety of jobs outside of their MOSs, including roles traditionally set aside for the military police, motorized infantry, transporters, and mechanics. In a few cases, companies have even received changes to their primary wartime missions while in transit to Southwest Asia or during their final precombat training in Kuwait. For the 664th Ordnance Company, the only ammunition supply company based at Fort Hood, Texas, only our arrival at our final deployed destination near An Nasiriyah, Iraq, ended our discussions about the nature of our wartime mission.

Taking into consideration all of these disparate factors, the average ammunition supply Soldier or NCO probably does not have enough MOS training before deploying into combat. In the 664th Ordnance Company, for example, the company leaders recognized early on that a collective deficit in predeployment MOS training could not be made up solely through on-the-job training (OJT). By combining the principles of OJT with some unique methods, however, it became possible to give most company personnel the breadth and depth of MOS training they would need to be successful during their current deployment and in future ammunition supply assignments.

Training Internally

At the end of January 2009, the 664th Ordnance Company assumed responsibility of the Contingency Operating Base (COB) Adder-Tallil ammunition supply point (ASP) at COB Adder. The COB Adder ASP is among the largest ammunition supply activities in Iraq. It directly supports nearly 100 customer units through a network of associated ammunition transfer and holding points throughout southern Iraq. The ASP also receives ammunition from and ships ammunition to other ammunition supply activities throughout Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan.

A sustainment operation of such remarkable scope demands a significant amount of technical knowledge, MOS skills, agility, and stamina from the Soldiers and leaders charged with running it. Upon arriving at COB Adder, the 664th had plenty of agility and stamina, but it needed MOS training in order to build technical knowledge and skills.

To bridge the gap in knowledge and skills, we created an innovative cross-training program for all MOS 89B Soldiers and NCOs in the company. The primary purpose of this program was to share and teach as much knowledge as possible among all of our Soldiers across all five areas of ASP operations: stock control, movement control, shipping, receiving, and storage. To administer this program to the lowest possible level, the full support and engagement of our NCOs would be required, especially at the platoon and section levels.

The company was fortunate to have a handful of staff sergeants (and one seasoned sergeant) with previous ammunition experience when it arrived at COB Adder. We spread their experience out by assigning them to positions of responsibility in each of the five areas of ASP operations. Consequently, each staff sergeant position was immediately filled by someone who was generally familiar with that area’s job. In some cases, the ASP even had an expert in the slot with a wealth of experience to share. These personnel were more or less permanently assigned to their specific area throughout the company’s deployment.

Thus, no matter where Soldiers worked in the ASP, a resident expert would always be supervising them and would be responsible for teaching them the skills needed for that particular area.

At this point, a casual observer could argue that, thus far, the cross-training program appears to be a simple application of OJT. The real innovation of the company’s cross-training system, however, came when we recognized that even well-educated Soldiers can fall victim to complacency by working in the same job day in and day out. To combat that possibility, we decided to rotate our junior NCOs and Soldiers on an offset schedule among three of the five areas of the ASP, namely shipping, receiving, and storage. The other two areas, stock control and movement control, would also see Soldier rotation but of a different sort, as we will explain below.

Shipping, receiving, and storage training. In shipping, receiving, and storage, a team of Soldiers and sergeants worked directly under the guidance of their staff sergeant for approximately 3 months. During each rotation, the staff sergeant taught his Soldiers and sergeants through example, informal instruction, guidance, and formal professional development classes. All of the instruction from each staff sergeant focused exclusively on his area of expertise and included a large amount of hands-on training working with ammunition and the tools of the trade. When it came time to rotate, the staff sergeants remained in place and everyone else under them was shifted to a new area in the ASP. The entire training cycle then began again.

This shift of personnel was carried out three times during the company’s 12-month deployment. This amounted to one complete round-robin rotation for every 89B Soldier and sergeant in the ASP. The ASP’s accountable officer anticipated that moving everyone at the same time would have a negative impact on the mission, so he decided before the first personnel shift to stagger the rotation schedule for sergeants and Soldiers.

After approximately 2 months and 3 weeks in a particular area, the sergeants rotated in a round-robin fashion to another area. This was a critical and challenging time for our sergeants because they were still responsible for the actions and accomplishments of their Soldiers at their previous station, but they were also expected to become familiar with the supervisory responsibilities at their new stations. This transition period also allowed the sergeants to learn what was expected of their Soldiers from the junior enlisted and staff sergeant already working at their new station.

By staggering the rotation of NCOs and Soldiers, the company also allowed its junior NCOs to build their own knowledge base before being expected to supervise and instruct their personnel. After about a week of the sergeants learning on their own, it was time for the rest of the Soldiers to rotate.

In general, this staggered rotation scheme worked well. The accountable officer received positive feedback from both Soldiers and NCOs. The only drawback to moving NCOs without their Soldiers was that some sergeants felt they lost touch with the Soldiers for whom they were responsible. This was particularly felt in the area of “Soldier issues”—a blanket term for the many administrative, financial, personal, medical, and other problems (large and small) that every individual has to work through from time to time.

In hindsight, we believe that the benefits of staggered rotation outweighed the costs. In the future, other units might be able to mitigate the “Soldier issues” friction by setting aside a portion of the day (30 to 60 minutes) or week (3 to 6 hours) for NCOs who are learning away from their formations to meet with their Soldiers and catch up on the issues.

Stock control and movement control training. Meanwhile, we decided to minimize Soldier turnover in stock control and movement control and reduce rotations in those areas. At the COB Adder ASP, success in stock control and movement control required patience. It took a long time to master complex tasks and build strong working relationships with a wide variety of people outside the company. So, to reduce the friction inherent in the turnover of complex, extremely critical, low-density jobs, the company decided that exposing MOS 89B Soldiers to stock control and movement control was a secondary concern.

The company also decided early on to maintain a one-to-one student-instructor ratio when selecting individuals for stock control and movement control cross-training. Since the stock control NCO-in-charge had 6 years of stock control experience in both the Army and the Navy, the company’s senior leaders wanted to ensure that our MOS 89B sergeants received as much instruction and personal attention as possible during their limited stays in the stock control office. So we brought in our best junior ammunition sergeants one at a time to work alongside our four MOS 89A (ammunition stock control) Soldiers.

For similar reasons, each of the two permanently assigned NCOs in movement control (both staff sergeants) received one junior Soldier at a time to work for them. This likewise preserved a one-to-one ratio. It also allowed company leaders to handpick those NCOs and Soldiers who would cross-train outside their MOS. Most rotations through stock control lasted about 2 months; movement control (with a somewhat lower OPTEMPO) saw rotations lasting 3 to 4 months each.

The minimum number of people detailed to cross-train in stock control and movement control minimized disruption of regular ASP operations since the company first and foremost had to maintain its ability to accomplish the mission. This was by no means due to any deficiency on the part of our MOSs 89B Soldiers. Although many of them would have had no problem learning the stock control or movement control jobs, we kept in mind that MOS 89A and MOS 88N (movement control) do not have the exact same skill sets as MOS 89B. That meant that rotating personnel through stock control or movement control would actually reduce the amount of MOS training those Soldiers received. In all, about a dozen of our most adaptable Soldiers and sergeants learned about either stock control or movement control during our deployment.

The aggregate affect of our entire cross-training program on the knowledge and skill level of our Soldiers and junior NCOs was pronounced. Company members without any previous ammunition supply support experience left COB Adder with a wide variety of practical expertise and lessons learned. Rather than seeing only a very narrow lane over the course of a 12-month deployment, each individual left the ASP with enough knowledge and skills to do all MOS 89B jobs at his skill level. The company’s MOS training program met the original intent and built well-rounded MOS 89B ammunition specialists.

Training Externally

Rather than satisfying ourselves with training only our own personnel, we also applied our rotational method to MOS 89A and 89B personnel from other units. Providing training opportunities to ammunition specialists and sergeants from other formations was more than just a perfect chance to improve relations between the company and our customer units; it also helped MOS 89A and 89B personnel capitalize on a rich training environment with lots of expertise at their fingertips. Some of the company’s “students” from outside units had been in the ammunition supply field for years without having ever worked in an ammunition supply activity at any level. Providing MOS training to those Soldiers was especially rewarding. After all, where else but at an ASP could they receive it?

Through regular business contacts throughout the southern half of Iraq, logistics leaders in other formations began to hear about the cross-training program at the COB Adder ASP. Unlike the 664th Ordnance Company, most units have an exceptionally low density of the ammunition supply MOS. Most brigade combat teams, in fact, are authorized only a single section of MOS 89B personnel (6 to 12 individuals).

Before long, units outside our battalion were contacting us to request assistance in training their MOS 89A and 89B personnel. These requests presented their own challenges because no two units wanted to gain exactly the same knowledge or skills.

Generally speaking, the ASP accountable officer would maintain contact with the officer or NCO requesting the training. The requestor specified what skills should be emphasized during his unit’s training. One unit wanted to know more about the paperwork required to process ammunition; another wanted to expose its personnel to the hands-on tasks inherent in their MOS; others wanted to gain as much knowledge of shipping as possible. The only way to execute a training plan to satisfy the requestor was to customize the experience, so that is what the 664th did.

Our external training program accepted up to four MOS 89A or 89B personnel at a time. Most of our visiting personnel were MOS 89B. Each group of four visitors spent a total of 2 weeks at the ASP. The visitors were split up and rotated through four areas: stock control, shipping, receiving, and storage. The students spent about 3 days at each station, but they were not simply sent out on their own. Each student was paired with a 664th Ordnance Company Soldier or NCO of equal rank and shadowed that person until it was time to move on to the next station.

For example, a visiting sergeant would be paired with a series of squad leaders at each station in order to learn what was expected of an ammunition sergeant during each type of operation. An ammunition specialist, on the other hand, was assigned as a member of the squad at each station, and he would be taught what our junior Soldiers were doing at each spot. Sometimes, rotations were even tailored to fit the specific requests of a particular group of visitors, adding or subtracting time at particular stations.

Through this creative approach, MOS 89B Soldiers who had never worked in an ASP received full-immersion ammunition supply training. The visitors were not expected to meet concrete learning objectives; the external training program was all about raising their awareness about their own MOS and showing them the basics of how the tasks of their MOS and skill level were conducted at our ASP. Although it admittedly takes much more than 3 days per station to learn the details of the job, our external training program offered these Soldiers and NCOs the foundation of what should be an ongoing learning process.

The time spent by our visitors at the COB Adder ASP provided real-life experience in ammunition supply operations. We also exposed small groups of our own customers to real-world ammunition supply support in a combat environment at the ASP level. Our visitors left with first-hand knowledge of how certain processes must be streamlined (but not by taking shortcuts) to meet the time standards set by the Army and the realities of combat sustainment in Iraq.

Some of our students who were somewhat familiar with ammunition supply operations at their home stations even learned that, although an ASP in Iraq cannot be a perfect match to ammunition supply operations back in the United States, it is possible to closely replicate the most essential safety and accountability practices required by Army regulations at any ASP, regardless of its location.

Perhaps most importantly, we were able to expose MOS 89B Soldiers and NCOs to the way that ASP operations are accomplished in a forward-deployed location. The responses of individuals who had the time and opportunity to shadow us at the COB Adder ASP were overwhelmingly positive.

Training in combat cannot fully replace training at home. By training in combat with the resources and expertise that were available at the company level and below, the 664th Ordnance Company built an agile team of ammunition supply professionals who were capable of running a highly dynamic and complex ASP in an extremely tough environment. The company also brought each of its enlisted members up to a level of MOS competence that they could not have reached by remaining in only one job for the entire deployment. Rather than only training one person on shipping and another person on storage, the company taught both areas, and more, to both people.

The company thus used a 12-month deployment to southern Iraq to prepare MOS 89B Soldiers and NCOs for any ammunition supply support job at their skill level, regardless of which part of an ASP they might be assigned to next. Through similar training methods applied by dedicated company and platoon leaders during future deployments, it will be possible to create a valuable and versatile force of sustainment Soldiers for the benefit of the entire Army.

Captain Theodore L. Zagraniski is the supply and services officer for the 377th Theater Sustainment Command at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, Louisiana. From July 2008 to April 2010, he served as the commander of the 664th Ordnance Company. He has a B.A. degree in history from Lehigh University and is a graduate of the Field Artillery Officer Basic Course and the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Gary N. Carr is the contracting officer’s representative for the 1st Theater Sustainment Command at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. He previously served as an ammunition technician with the 664th Ordnance Company and as the accountable officer at the Contingency Operating Base Adder-Tallil ammunition supply point. He has a B.S. degree in criminal justice from Madison University.


 
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