A Conscientious Approach to Combat Service Support

by Major Luis A. Delgado, USAR

In the 19th century, Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth Von Moltke said, "No plan survives contact with the enemy." This is not just an empty phrase; it's a caveat to logisticians on the execution of their planning. By the same token, it is a warning to logisticians that not every logistics situation can be covered in a nice, neat combat service support matrix. There are too many event-driven decisions and actions that must take place before a soldier can shoot a round of ammunition, hit a target, and achieve the desired result. Time permitting, the logistician starts out with a well-crafted, planned sequence of events and procedures to support the warfighter. However, once execution of the plan is underway, he can reach a goal only by adapting to events and situations that arise and to the realities of the military distribution systems.

Most military operations take place on unfamiliar terrain in a foreign land. Sometimes the forces of nature add to the drama, imposing constraints on resources such as transportation, personnel, communication links, maintenance, and supply and services. Logisticians need a basic knowledge of how these interdependent systems affect soldier support. This knowledge will give them the ability to minimize obstacles, prepare for the unexpected, and always be ready to adjust the plan to fit the situation.

Even when you are well prepared, unexpected challenges can occur because of training shortfalls or because of a faulty logistics decision based on hasty assumptions. Did you ever hear of the "that's the way we did it back in____" syndrome? Careless logisticians often offer "cookie cutter" solutions that do not quite fit the scenario. These familiar solutions create complacency and lead to obstacles that can slow down or threaten the flow of support. To resume the flow of support, a conscientious logistician will identify and remove these barriers. He must recognize where the gaps develop between planning and execution and make adjustments to meet current and projected situations. Adjusting to change is a vital part of an effective logistician's thinking process.

Right after first contact with the enemy, a flurry of information emerges. During this data frenzy, there is an exchange of endless bits of electronic and paper-based information that eventually will impact directly on the combatant's readiness. Because the human factor is involved, a conscientious logistician should never forward information, or act upon it, without first verifying it. Once they are set in motion, logistics actions based on incorrect information can cause lost time, money, and manpower.

Armed with accurate information, the logistician can adjust combat service support plans properly. This information comes from every corner of the battlefield, including the combat commander's current and future intent, levels and locations of ammunition and fuel, composition and requirements of weapon systems, serviceability of all command-regulated items and replacements, levels of life-support supplies, distribution channel capabilities, and manpower availability.

With these indicators, logisticians can decide what support is needed for the next maneuver, visualize where the support is needed most, and put a plan into action. Again, once information is received, it is necessary to react quickly. The combat commander relies on information about the unit's logistics posture to make crucial decisions about offensive and defensive actions.

The logistics clock never stops ticking. Someone is making managerial decisions throughout the entire lifespan of materiel designed to support soldiers or equipment. The clock starts ticking in the research and development phase at the manufacturer. Once manufactured, the product continues its journey to an installation or depot, where it is held until needed. From the temporary storage site, it is sent to the farthest supporting logistics base. Then it can be drawn from the supporting activity to take care of soldiers and equipment or to carry out the combat commander's intent. Whether the logistician is behind a computer screen at the depot or behind the wheel of a truck somewhere on the battlefield, there is a soldier who is counting on him to make the correct decision and deliver the needed combat serv-ice support. The bottom line is that logisticians must design a solid combat service support plan, execute it efficiently, and adjust it constantly to the current situation by using verifiable information.

Major Luis A. Delgado, USAR, is an Active Guard/Reserve officer who is serving as the maintenance officer for the 311th Corps Support Command, Fort Lewis, Washington. He has a bachelor's degree in industrial management from the University of Puerto Rico and a master's degree in human resource development from Webster University in Missouri.