In this time of diminishing resources, senior logistics
leaders need to coach, teach, and mentor subordinates
on the technical basics of the profession. If we do not,
the Army may lose a set of skills developed over decades
that will be critical in the next several years and exists
only in a cadre of people approaching retirement.
The last decade of war has seen the culture of our
logistics force transform dramatically. We have a generation
of sustainment leaders with more combat experience
than most other generations, yet we have sacrificed
technical expertise because of the uniqueness of the
current fight. That technical expertise, hard fought for
and reinforced by generations of senior warrant officers,
noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and Department of the Army (DA) civilians, must not perish. This expertise must form the nucleus of the profession of arms for logisticians.
Much of the technical knowledge that I have learned
has come from subordinates during my 27-year career.
One of my earliest memories of being a second lieutenant
is that of the senior warrant officer in the battalion
throwing an Army regulation at me and telling me to
research something. I did not know it then, but he was training and mentoring me in his own way—technical mentorship. He had experienced the post-Vietnam War Army, and this was his way of ensuring that Soldiers like me got the technical knowledge to care for his Army in
the future. As senior logisticians, we must ensure that we do the same for the next generation of logisticians. It is easy to recognize the importance of tactical proficiency.
For example, no one can deny the importance of having Soldiers experienced in conducting logistics convoys under fire. However, many junior logisticians do not understand that being technically proficient is just as important.
Since 11 September 2001, Logistics Corps Soldiers
have been required to operate outside of their core competencies
in many ways. As Soldiers, we have accepted
this, but it has contributed to the eroding of our technical
competence. We have relied heavily on the Logistics
Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) to provide
the majority of our support structure at large forward
operating bases (FOBs) and even at some of our combat
outposts (COP) in both Iraq and Afghanistan. LOGCAP performs many functions, such as retail and wholesale fuel farms, supply support activities (SSAs), dining facility operations, and Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Group (ADACG) operations.
As a result, many logistics Soldiers have been available to function outside their military occupational specialties (MOSs) to fill gaps identified by commanders. For instance, petroleum supply and maintenance companies have been operating as convoy security companies, providing security to contracted host-nation trucks rather than operating fuel points or maintenance shops. Every day I see examples of our junior leaders relying on contractors for logistics missions that will be theirs in the coming years. This erodes not only the Soldiers’ technical abilities but also the ability of our junior leaders to lead from a technical perspective. We have to stem the tide on this now before it becomes irreversible.
Even when our deployed Soldiers are performing their
MOSs on a daily basis, they are often hampered by a
lack of nearby senior NCOs and warrant officers to provide
mentorship. Most of the COPs in Regional Command
East are dispersed throughout several mountain
ranges and are accessible only by air or poor roads. Most
have only a handful of junior logisticians to provide support
because of the dispersion of each forward support
company. For instance, most of the COPs are supported
by only one food service specialist (MOS 92G) in
the rank of specialist or private first class. That junior Soldier runs an expeditionary tricon kitchen system by himself often without visits from food service NCOs for months at a time because of geographic challenges. This Soldier operates on limited experience without the benefit of having a mentor on hand to provide technical guidance.
We must take steps now, such as reading, understanding and complying with regulations, and creating mentor relationships, to stop the erosion of our technical competencies, or the next generation of senior leaders may lack the requisite technical knowledge to lead our Logistics Corps. We now hear the call for “back to basics” from our senior leaders and I believe the timing is spot on. In many instances, the “basics” for logisticians means reading and following regulations and standard operating procedures and doing things by the book. I submit that the keepers of these basics are our senior warrant officers, NCOs, and DA civilians who grew up in an Army with Inspector General and other command inspections.
I was raised by a group of warrant officers, NCOs, and DA civilians who knew their trade. The warrant officers made me read the Army regulations before I asked them questions. In this way, they made sure all of my decisions were based on a true requirement. If the regulations did not support what needed to be done, they knew where to go for an exception to policy. They did not fly by the seat of their pants.
The supply sergeants and motor sergeants were hardliners. If it was not in black and white, it was not worth talking about. Verbal (or email) requests were not accepted for anything. Stock numbers and document numbers were required. I was never allowed to just do what I wanted; I had to sign for everything. In this time of diminishing budgets, we must get back to adhering to regulations, and we must train our subordinates to do the same.
I now see this type of mentoring happening regularly when dealing with the senior logisticians on the U.S. Army Europe staff and in its formations. I see chief warrant officer 5s and senior DA civilians mentoring junior warrant officers on Property Book Unit Supply Enhanced operations and the transition from leftbehind equipment to the unit-maintained equipment program.
We need to encourage and formalize this mentoring
process and make it a priority. We need to get back
to these standards because we cannot afford to continue
business as usual. I believe that empowering the
warrant officers, NCOs, and DA civilians who run the
technical aspects of our Army is best way to get there. When we identify mid-level leaders who are not ready, we need our senior warrant officers and NCOs to prepare those leaders through professional development programs and by coaching and mentoring them. If we
do not, we are in danger of losing skills developed over decades, which are needed to get through the austere times ahead.
Leaders can help bridge the gap to get back to basics in the following ways: