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Collecting Information From the Field

In a complex organization like the Army Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) at Fort Lee, Virginia, leaders and decisionmakers must routinely ask at least three critical, overarching questions in order to maintain the relevance of their products, their focus on their customers, and the viability of their organization: Where are we, where are we going, and how do we get there? These questions must be answered so that the products and services the organization generates serve its intended primary customer.

CASCOM’s principal customers are sustainment Soldiers and the transforming organizations to which those Soldiers are assigned. Determining “what right looks like” in the areas of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities (DOTMLPF) for a transforming Army presents combat, training, and doctrine developers and associated training institutions with significant challenges. This is particularly true when one considers the rapidly changing nature of the operational environments in which our sustainment Soldiers serve around the world and the impact of the Army’s ongoing transformation. Additional challenges are created by the complex, cumbersome nature of the joint and Army requirements processes themselves; a change in one DOTMLPF area often affects change in others.

Change of this magnitude and pace cannot be addressed effectively from the desks of the doctrine, combat, and training developers at CASCOM, nor by the course managers assigned to the schools responsible for training our sustainment Soldiers. However, resource constraints seldom permit the combat, training, and doctrine developers to travel to the sustainment Soldiers’ places of duty to determine if the products and services being developed for the Soldiers actually meet their needs.

To facilitate and sustain the relevance of the products and services generated on behalf of sustainment Soldiers and organizations, CASCOM is continuing to upgrade its process for communicating with the field by applying cost-effective approaches to collecting feedback. These approaches use resources within the Analysis and Integration (A&I) Division of CASCOM’s Directorate of Lessons Learned/Quality Assurance (DL2/QA).

Collecting Feedback

The A&I Division comprises three discrete branches: Lessons Learned Integration, Combat Training Centers, and External Evaluations. Together, they provide a unique capability for routinely collecting feedback from sustainment Soldiers and organizations engaged in military operations around the world.

The mission focus of the Lessons Learned Integration Branch is rapid collection and integration of observations, insights, and lessons (OIL) derived from contemporary operational environments. This is accomplished primarily through activities such as collection and analysis teams sponsored by the Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and reverse-collection and analysis teams (R–CAATs) sponsored by CASCOM. Under the R–CAAT program, sustainment commanders and staff who have recently redeployed are brought to CASCOM to share OIL based on their recent operational experiences.

The Combat Training Centers Branch mission focus is to harvest OIL from observer/controllers at the Army’s combat training centers (CTCs). This is accomplished in one of two ways: by sending CASCOM doctrine, training, and combat developers who have specific data collection needs to one of the CTCs to participate in right-seat-rides, or by bringing the observer/controllers back to CASCOM for a reverse right-seat-ride, which allows CASCOM staff to meet with the observer/controllers and collect data pertaining to specific collection needs.

The External Evaluations Branch collects field feedback by conducting studies, surveys, and interviews. This branch consists of four teams: Ordnance, Quartermaster, Transportation, and Army Logistics Management College (ALMC). Each team has a direct-support relationship with its assigned school as well as an overarching support relationship with the CASCOM commanding general and his supporting staff. Each team has a quality assurance (training) mission focus area mandated by the Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and a special mission focus area of supporting the CASCOM commanding general and his staff and the functional proponents and their staffs at the Ordnance, Quartermaster, and Transportation Schools and ALMC with specified data collection needs.

Assuring Quality

The TRADOC-mandated mission focus area involves developing graduate, supervisor, end-of-course-critique, and difficulty, importance, and frequency (DIF) model surveys for all courses taught at the school that the External Evaluations Branch team supports. Each team emails graduate surveys to both Active and Reserve component sustainment Soldiers 6 to 18 months after they graduate from a course to obtain feedback on how well the Soldiers can execute the critical tasks associated with the institutional training they received.

Administration of supervisor surveys is conducted by the quality assurance elements within each school for Active component courses and monitored by the External Evaluations Branch team leaders. Supervisors are asked to evaluate how well course graduates they supervise can execute critical tasks associated with the institutional training. The External Evaluations Branch continues to work with Reserve component evaluators in the DL2/QA directorate to solicit course manager support for the administration of supervisor surveys for courses taught in Army National Guard and Army Reserve schools.

Each team develops executive summaries from graduate and supervisor feedback and gives them to the quality assurance element leader in each school to support ongoing course assessments. The results of these surveys are reported to TRADOC on a semiannual basis for a review and analysis with the TRADOC commanding general.

At the request of the CASCOM Training Directorate, each External Evaluations Branch team leader develops DIF model surveys to support critical task selection boards (CTSBs). The DIF model surveys are emailed to subject-matter experts specified by the Training Directorate. Executive summaries are developed by External Evaluations Branch team leaders for the Training Directorate so the directorate can provide training recommendations to the CTSBs. End-of-course-critique surveys are developed by the External Evaluations Branch for exclusive use by course managers in the schools. All supervisor survey instruments are posted on the DL2/QA website at www.cascom.army.mil/QA/QA_Surveys2.htm.

Supporting Information Needs

The special mission focus area of the External Evaluations Branch concerns the specified collection needs of a wide range of customer organizations within CASCOM, the directly supported schools, ALMC, and organizations outside of CASCOM. Regardless of the collection instrument selected, the overarching methodology includes the same phases: plan, design, test, deploy, collect, analyze, and report findings.

In the plan phase, a clearly defined problem statement must be provided by the customer. The design phase is a collaborative undertaking by the customer and the External Evaluations Branch. Collection instruments are tailored to meet the customer’s specific collection need. The remaining phases—collect, analyze, and report—are conducted by the External Evaluations Branch. Collection instruments must be designed with the end-state analysis clearly in mind. During the analyze phase, feedback from studies, surveys, and interviews is routinely triangulated (cross-walked) with independent data searches performed in the Lessons Learned Integration Branch and with feedback solicited from the CTCs to further validate trends before findings are reported to the customer.

The need for change across DOTMLPF products and services supporting sustainment Soldiers and their organizations has never been greater. The speed and accuracy with which CASCOM leaders and decisionmakers are able to complete their respective assessments of their products require a steady flow of reliable information about “what right looks like.” Collectively, the A&I Division is providing a unique and dynamic capability to CASCOM that was not available in the past and is not currently known to reside in organizations elsewhere in the Army. This capability represents a “tool box” of sorts, from which the CASCOM commanding general and his supporting staff and the functional proponents at the Transportation, Quartermaster, and Ordnance schools and ALMC and their supporting staffs can select an option, or a combination of options, most appropriate to meet their information collection needs.

The A&I Division continues to generate improvements in the quantity and quality of feedback for doctrine, training, and combat developers within CASCOM, as well as the functional proponents and course managers in the schools charged with training our sustainment Soldiers. This capability enables leaders and decisionmakers to decide more quickly and with greater confidence “what right looks like,” thereby making DOTMLPF requirements decisions that result in more timely and relevant products and services to support CASCOM’s principal customer—sustainment Soldiers and the organizations to which they are assigned throughout the Army.

Earl C. Driver is a logistics management specialist in the External Evaluations Branch, Analysis and Integration Division, Directorate of Lessons Learned/Quality Assurance, at the Army Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Virginia. A retired lieutenant colonel, he is a graduate of the Adjutant General Officer Basic Course, the Army Medical Department Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, and the Army Command and General Staff College. He holds a bachelor’s degree in government from Eastern Washington University and a master’s degree in public administration from Central Michigan University.