Many demands are placed on a combat sustainment
support battalion (CSSB) headquarters
in today's Army. As a modular battalion, the
CSSB is not habitually under a brigade and has no
organic subordinate units. The CSSB is capable of deploying
independently and providing mission command
for assigned and attached sustainment units in order to
provide full-spectrum sustainment support as required.
The 17th CSSB, stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, provides mission command for
12 individual companies and detachments spread over
360 miles between Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson
and Fort Wainwright, Alaska, with a total of more than
1,300 Soldiers authorized. In the last 5 years, the battalion
deployed twice: once in support of Operation Iraqi
Freedom (OIF) for 15 months from 2007 to 2009 and
once in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) for 12 months from 2010 to 2011. During those 5 years,
the battalion served under 6 different brigade headquarters
and provided mission command for 43 Active Army,
Army National Guard, and Army Reserve units totaling
more than 5,300 Soldiers.
On order, the 17th CSSB deploys and provides mission
command of assigned and attached units, sustainment
and general support commodity hub operations,
distribution of all classes of supply, area support maintenance,
central receiving and shipping point operations,
and contractor oversight.
Using the 17th CSSB as an example, this article
will examine the unique challenges facing CSSBs and
provide recommendations in the areas of manning,
equipping, and training against the backdrop of garrison
sustainment operations, modularity, and overseas contingency
operations in today's high operating tempo Army.
The size of the organization and modularity are indisputably
the biggest factors in determining proper manning
levels for a CSSB. These factors also significantly
increase the staff's workload, and deployment adds to
the challenges. The 24-hour operations required during
deployments justify depth of manning, as do the nonstandard
missions that inevitably come up. For example,
the 17th CSSB had to split its headquarters to man a forward
logistics element and had combined action training
responsibilities with its Afghan military partners.
Of course, nonstandard missions are not unique to a
CSSB; all battalions work through similar challenges
while deployed. However, several examples of increased
workload are unique to the CSSB. For example, the
S–1 section of an average-sized, organic battalion with
500 to 700 Soldiers will process 500 to 700 end-of-tour
(EOT) awards during a deployment. That requirement
is more than double for a CSSB. During the recent
OEF rotation, the 17th CSSB's S–1 section processed
more than 2,100 EOT awards since 5 subordinate units
redeployed during the battalion's tour. During the 17th
CSSB's 15-month OIF deployment, the S–1 processed
more than 2,000 EOT awards.
Awards are not the only administrative actions that
significantly increase in a CSSB. The number of personnel
administrative actions, including officer and
noncommissioned officer (NCO) evaluations, records
updates, and promotion packets, is at least double, and
in some cases triple, the norm.
The fact that a CSSB becomes a multicomponent
headquarters while deployed creates additional stress
and workload since the Active component human
resources specialists have to learn all the differences
within the National Guard and Army Reserve personnel
The S–1 authorization for the 17th CSSB was nine
Soldiers according to the battalion's fiscal year (FY)
2011 modified table of organization and equipment
(MTOE). The FY 2012 MTOE decreased the S–1 section
authorization to eight, yet the workload remained
The additional workload that comes with the CSSB’s size and modularity also applies to other staff sections. The S–3, S–4, and S–6 sections all have significant workload increases. The S–3, in addition to having twice the normal S–3 workload since the CSSB is twice the size of an average battalion, is busy with continuous planning and staff synchronization because of the constant turnover of subordinate units.
In the S–4 section, having double or triple the number
of subordinate units leads to an exponential amount
of equipment and supply actions. Because of the high
number of subordinate units and the frequent turnover of
those units, the size and scope of the battalion's command
supply discipline program is immense. The S–6
section is responsible for all of the battalion's network
users, automation equipment, and network trouble
tickets. The FY 2011 authorizations for the 17th CSSB
S–4 and S–6 sections were seven Soldiers each. For FY
2012, the S–4 authorization decreased to five and the
S–6 decreased to six, yet the workload remained the
The MTOE changes to the support operations (SPO)
and S–3 sections offset each other since the only change
was to move the plans section from under the SPO to the
S–3. In the SPO section, the biggest workload increase
was not necessarily because of size or modularity but
because of the addition of a new responsibility: contract
oversight. During the OEF deployment, the SPO section
provided 8 full-time contracting officer's representatives
to evaluate 12 contracts and the performance of over 500
In the past 5 years, the 17th CSSB has been the size
of a brigade minus, whether forward deployed or in
garrison. Yet some key staff sections have remained the
same size as those of a much smaller battalion. In garrison
during the summer of 2009, the 17th CSSB was
manned at 80 percent—despite the fact that the battalion
had 12 units and 1,323 Soldiers—since it was not on
the patch chart to deploy. It was a significant challenge
to establish staff processes and manage a battalion that
large with 80 percent of a staff organized to command a
battalion half that size.
|While in garrison in early 2010, 1,323 Soldiers served under the 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.
During Operation Enduring Freedom 10-11, 1,766 Soldiers served under the battalion.
Professional Development and Training
A large modular battalion encounters several professional
development challenges. Developing leaders is
more difficult when the whole battalion is not on the
same Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) cycle. Invariably,
dwell-time issues occur when moving officers
and NCOs between companies and headquarters, which
must be done to ensure the professional growth and
development of those personnel.
Another problem is the fact that many junior leaders
will serve under three to five different battalion commanders
during a 3-year tour. This makes mentorship
from the battalion command team inconsistent and, in
some cases, very minimal because of the short amount
of time those junior leaders serve with a particular battalion
Training a CSSB in garrison is very challenging when the battalion’s subordinate units are on different ARFORGEN cycles. In order for a sustainment battalion headquarters to train for its wartime mission, there must be a sustainment mission to perform and sustainment units on hand to execute it. This training can be accomplished through field training exercises (FTXs) built to rehearse all the capabilities of the battalion or through daily garrison support requirements.
In the 17th CSSB's case, the customers in garrison
are the 17th CSSB's higher headquarters, the 3d Maneuver
Enhancement Brigade (MEB), which lacks an
organic brigade support battalion (BSB), and U.S. Army
Alaska (USARAK). As the only echelons-above-brigade
sustainment battalion in USARAK, the 17th CSSB supported
the 3d MEB in a direct support role and USARAK
in a general support role. However, because of
the ARFORGEN cycles of subordinate units, the support
requirement never matched the 17th CSSB's capabilities
between the 17th CSSB's OIF and OEF deployments.
For example, the 3d MEB needed sustainment-level
maintenance support, but the 98th Maintenance Company
was deployed. USARAK needed transportation
support between Fort Wainwright and Joint Base
Elmendorf-Richardson, but both of the transportation
companies were deployed. By the time the maintenance
and transportation companies returned, the headquarters
was deploying again. Even though the support requirements
were there, the 17th CSSB missed out on garrison
training opportunities because of modularity.
The National Training Center Rotation
Before deploying to OEF, the battalion conducted three staff exercises and a National Training Center (NTC) rotation at Fort Irwin, California. With 12 units spread across 360 miles to command and each with its own unique training requirements, the CSSB faced a significant challenge to develop and execute a meaningful battalion-level training exercise.
Before the OEF deployment, the 17th CSSB did not
conduct any battalion collective training exercises. One
staff exercise was conducted in December 2009, and 2
of 12 companies participated. The staff was distracted
by the other 10 units throughout the exercise. It was not
until after a provisional staff stood up in January 2010
and the transfer of all subordinate units was complete
that the 17th CSSB headquarters completed the bulk of
its predeployment training.
The constant deployment, redeployment, activation,
and inactivation of units—caused by the battalion's units
being on different ARFORGEN timelines and having
individual and unique training requirements—hindered
the CSSB's ability to have a meaningful battalion-level
training exercise. The 17th CSSB’s two staff exercises and NTC rotation that were conducted after the provisional
staff stood up proved to be exactly what was
required to prepare for the OEF deployment.
While it was still a very valuable training event,
the NTC rotation presented some training challenges,
mostly in regard to command structure and mission
command relationships. For the 17th CSSB's NTC task
organization, the battalion was fortunate to have the
109th Transportation Company (TC), a home station
unit. The 109th TC was separated by only 1 month from
the CSSB headquarters in its ARFORGEN cycle, so the
timing of the NTC rotation worked for both units. The
109th TC was the only unit commanded by the 17th
CSSB headquarters during the NTC rotation. Had it not
gone to NTC with the headquarters, the headquarters
would not have had any units to train with.
Sourcing a CSSB with subordinate sustainment units
for combat training center rotations and then matching
the CSSB's capabilities with the rotating brigade combat
team's (BCT's) requirements is a significant challenge.
In the 17th CSSB's case, the 2d BCT, 25th Infantry Division
(a Stryker BCT [SBCT]), was more than willing
to make the 17th CSSB a part of the team and incorporate
it into the overall concept of support to ensure
tough, realistic training for all.
Even with incredible support from the SBCT, there
were still challenges with the mission command structure.
The 916th Support Brigade is garrisoned at Fort
Irwin and provided mentorship and guidance during the
rotation. That said, the mission of the 916th Support
Brigade is to provide "Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental,
Multinational (JIIM), contracted support, and
rotary-wing aviation sustainment to rotational units,
NTC customers, and other government and civil agencies,"
not to command, mentor, and train rotational
CSSBs. That left the SBCT to command a battalion it is
not designed to command and limited the training value
of the rotation for the CSSB.
Another challenge during the NTC rotation was
observer-controller (OC) support. Although the Gold
Miner OC team did its best to provide the 17th CSSB
with the world-class training support it is known for,
the CSSB was not its priority. The rotating BSB was
its priority. The Gold Miner team simply does not
have enough OCs to sufficiently cover both a BSB and
a CSSB during a rotation. USARAK was tasked to
provide OC augmentees. However, those augmentees
lacked logistics experience; one was a second lieutenant
fresh out of the officer basic course.
One shortfall that the staff exercises and the NTC rotation
highlighted was a lack of authorized MTOE equipment
necessary to train the 17th CSSB headquarters and
subordinate units adequately for deployment. The lack
of key equipment created a complete dependence on the
local battle command training center for facilities, Army
Battle Command Systems, and network connectivity.
Once the 17th CSSB got to NTC, its dependence shifted
to the SBCT, which supported the battalion in any way
The biggest support requirement was network connectivity. The 17th CSSB was fortunate to be able to
stay in the rotational unit bivouac area, and it benefited
from the battalion tactical operations center's clamshell
tent being wired for network connectivity. If the headquarters
had been pushed forward into the training area,
it would have inevitably pulled from the SBCT's limited
signal company capability, potentially hindering other
units' ability to train.
Being a battalion headquarters not habitually under a
brigade requires a CSSB to be as independent as possible
and ready to deploy as an expeditionary force to an
immature theater with no theater-provided equipment or
as a follow-on force in a well-established theater. The
addition of the Command Post Node will require a military
occupational specialty 25N (nodal network systems
operators/maintainer) Soldier to be added to the MTOE.
In the past 5 years, the 17th CSSB has been the size
of a brigade minus, whether forward deployed or in garrison,
yet the staff has remained roughly the same size
as its smaller support battalion counterparts. In October
2011, some key staff sections actually became smaller
than comparable non-CSSB support battalions. The
size of the battalion and the diversity of the subordinate
units, together with MTOE equipment constraints, make
it impossible to conduct a simple FTX without relying
completely on outside organizations to assist.
It is unrealistic to continue to build the MTOE of a
CSSB to fight an insurgency in a mature theater with
plenty of theater-provided equipment on hand. If the
trend is not reversed, critical skills will continue to be
lost and CSSBs will become incapable of expeditionary
operations. CSSB MTOEs should be changed in six
First, modularity and size should be considered. In
order to maintain the pace at which CSSBs operate,
whether forward deployed or in garrison, MTOE manning
should not be reduced in the aggregate.
Second, E–7 and above positions should be manned at
no less than 90 percent, regardless of where the CSSB is
in the ARFORGEN cycle, to account for the increased
Third, a contracting NCO should be added to the
MTOE under the SPO section to act as the subject-matter
expert and handle all contract administration requirements.
Fourth, the CSSB MTOE should be equipped for the
worst-case scenario, which is an expeditionary capability
designed to hold up in a force-on-force, high-intensity
Fifth, the number of OCs on the Gold Miner team
should be increased, and mission command, mentorship,
and training of the rotating CSSBs should become a
primary focus of the 916th Support Brigade.
Sixth, a war trace alignment of National Guard and
Army Reserve units with active CSSBs should be developed
so that the units have some level of familiarity
before deployment. This would allow multicomponent
CSSBs to conduct training events, including FTXs and
combat training center rotations, during Army National
Guard and Army Reserve annual training.