Combat Service Support and Combat Arms:  Avoiding a Cultural Chasm

by Lieutenant Colonel Christopher R. Paparone

In a recent lecture at the Army War College a senior military officer (Speaker A) stated that logistics and operations were moving closer and closer together, and soon they would be virtually indistinguishable. The forces he cited as driving this merger included the U.S. military's maturing force-projection strategy, technological advances, and just-in-time logistics. These three factors are causing operations and logistics to be so interdependent that the military may soon reach the point when there is no longer any reason to treat them as separate functions.

Speaker A went on to say that, for example, at the tactical level, precision-guided munitions and more fuel-efficient equipment could lessen logistics requirements. At the operational level, total asset visibility and predictive maintenance technologies could make operations more agile. At the strategic level, use of commercially viable technologies and transportation capabilities by the military could make strategic projection as fast as the Army Vision requires.

Another senior military leader (Speaker B) talked about the "unity of command" that is being achieved down to brigade level. He said that, with the implementation of Division XXI concepts, which take logistics out of the maneuver battalions and place it in the forward support battalion (FSB), the "desirable" unity of command for logistics is now a reality.

What is disconcerting about Speaker B's remarks is the conceptual disparity from Speaker A's vision of the merging of operations and logistics. This disparity is a cultural one. The culture required in Speaker A's emerging reality calls for throwing out the traditional "pecking order" of combat arms versus combat support versus combat service support. The resilient branch insignias of the Army and the "unbreakable" historic ties to these stovepiped specialties probably would have to be broken also. Speaker A's scenario, which is very much in line with the Army Vision, would require the reengineering of officer and noncommissioned officer specialties to create a more multifunctional soldier. One option would be to look at the Marine Corps system that "raises" every Marine as an infantryman first, cradle to grave. In any case, the call for a more flexible and multifunctional organization is clear under Speaker A's forecast.

Speaker B's description of how the Army could break the final "inefficiency" of logistics structure in the brigade called for the FSB commander to use his logistics "fire hose" to support a mission. According to Speaker B, "No logistics should ever be idle—we just can't afford that." But to say that there would be a better unity of command is misleading. Unity of command implies command over a multitude of battlefield operating systems. The maneuver battalion task force actually relinquishes unity of command over organic logistics to a direct support unit.

The problem with Speaker B's scenario (separating logistics and operations) is that it is diametrically opposed to Speaker A's concept (a clear and present merging of logistics and operations at higher levels of Army and joint organizations). Speaker B's scenario exacerbates an already-growing cultural chasm between the logistics and operations communities. The Division XXI brigade will produce leaders from junior officers on up to brigade commanders who have little command interest in logistics. "I don't know much about logistics except that I need some," will become the maneuver commander's fallback position. The FSB commander, however, must know virtually every detail of a combat maneuver, or a travesty will result. (Even so, he still will not have to fear for his career, since his rater is the division support commander—possibly another "loggie.")

Perhaps a compromise can be found to fix this impending cultural disparity. One alternative would be to place the FSB under the brigade as an attachment instead of having it under the division support commander. At least the maneuver brigade commander and his staff would learn the command responsibilities for logistics, although the maneuver battalion commanders still would be at risk.

The Army sees both Speakers A and B as correct. Regardless of the final course of action selected to overcome this cultural disparity, senior leaders first must recognize the impending train wreck that eventually will occur if this dual view is sustained. If senior leaders truly believe the Army Vision, then Division XXI logisticians at the brigade level should practice cognitive dissonance (believing one thing and doing another). Otherwise, future senior leaders will not be equipped with the understanding of logistics and operations that is necessary to make good decisions—a shortfall that eventually will cripple our National Military Strategy.

Lieutenant Colonel Christopher R. Paparone, a Quartermaster Corps officer, is a student at the Army War College. He has served in a variety of command and staff positions at division, corps, theater, and national levels. He has been selected to participate in the Army War College Professorship Program.