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The Sustainment Brigade General Supply Office in Iraq

The success of the 15th Sustainment Brigade’s general supply office in supporting operations on an asymmetrical battlefield was due to collaboration among
logisticians at different levels and in different units.

Today’s logistician must combine the lean logistics typically associated with distribution management with the vigor of an agile, responsive support structure. The ability to survive on the asymmetrical battlefield requires on-hand stocks and a strong distribution system. Strains placed on the distribution system at the tactical and operational levels require that supply hubs, or forward operating bases, maintain stocks or days of supply. The task of managing the stocks belongs to the general supply office (GSO) within the sustainment brigade. The GSO has taken on the monumental task of replacing the division materiel management center and the corps materiel management center of the legacy Army.

Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) 06–08 brought together nine brigade combat teams (BCTs) in support of Multi-National Division-Baghdad (MND–B) and four additional BCTs in support of the new Multi-National Division-Center (MND–C), which was created for the Baghdad Surge. Only three of these brigades were from Fort Hood, Texas, the home of the 15th Sustainment Brigade and the 1st Cavalry Division. The task organizations of these BCTs ranged from airborne battalions to combined arms battalions. The flexibility needed for each maneuver commander’s success compelled the 15th Sustainment Brigade’s GSO to collaborate with the brigade support battalions’ support operations officers, the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) staff, and the division logistics staff of the 1st Cavalry Division.

The challenges facing the GSO ranged from managing nine authorized stockage lists (ASLs) to overseeing multimillion-gallon fuel farms. The true challenge, however, was forecasting the needs of the brigade support battalions (BSBs) and projecting those resources forward. The Army’s expectation is that the BSBs will have the resources available to support the warfighter, and that can only be accomplished by pushing the needed stocks as far forward as possible.

Collaboration and Communication

In addition to its responsibilities as the brigade’s Routing Identifier Code-Geographic (RIC–GEO) manager, the GSO is the subsistence and bulk petroleum manager for up to two divisions. The reality of this responsibility became especially clear in supporting the fight in the heart of Iraq. The challenges of supporting MND–B and MND–C demonstrated that collaboration among the BSBs, combat sustainment support battalions (CSSBs), and the 15th Sustainment Brigade was the key to meeting the warfighter’s needs.

Collaboration throughout the tactical and operational supply levels provided the logisticians with a picture of the capabilities and requirements of the troops in the fight. Within MND–B and MND–C, the 15th Sustainment Brigade received reports from 13 BSBs and 3 CSSBs. The open communication between the supporting and supported units was vital to “right sizing” stockpiles at forward operating bases.

Flexible Supply Management

Why was maintaining stocks on hand in a system that prides itself on distribution still critical to the success of Army logistics? The answer was simple: the enemy still had a vote. MND–B and MND–C bri-gade supply hubs maintained multiple days of supply for most ba-sic commodities. Fuel, for example, was maintained at 5 days of supply. This was important because of the uncertainty of route conditions, weather conditions, and operational needs. Maintaining a minimum amount of stocks on hand provided the logistics commanders at each level of the supply chain with a certain amount of flexibility that was not available through strict adherence to a distribution-based supply system. The bottom line was that too many variables affected the ability of the distribution networks to support “just in time” logistics.

The diversity of the organizations supported at the BSB level has expanded to include units outside their organic brigades. Using main support battalions to provide area support to nondivisional units in the division area is no longer possible. The BSB has evolved into an area support organization responsible for supporting not only its brigade but also any unit within the brigade’s footprint. This has brought a set of challenges of its own. Changing task organizations and supporting units that are not part of the brigade’s task organization have expanded the focus of BSB support operation officers to include enforcing supply discipline policies to those non-task-organized units. The 15th Sustainment Brigade, especially the RIC–GEO manager within the GSO, also felt these challenges.

The high operational tempo within MND–B and MND–C pre-sented unique challenges to the RIC–GEO manager. BCTs were not pure and often con-sisted of company-level units from other BCTs. An-other challenge was the frequency at which task organizations changed to meet the needs of the operation. Without aggressive policies, the potential existed for gaps in support to appear. The 15th Sustainment Brigade reduced that potential by using “home station” policies while deployed in the heart of Iraq. Tasks like managing the materiel review file (MRF) and the overaged reparable item list (ORIL) and controlling degree code violations required aggressive procedures to prevent substandard performance. The 15th Sustainment Brigade maintained the lowest ORIL percentage within Iraq by exceeding set policies. Policies within Iraq required monthly ORIL reporting; the 15th Sustainment Brigade reported the ORIL daily. This provided visibility to the MND–B commander, the BCT commanders, and the commanders of separate units within the 15th Sustainment Brigade’s area of operations.

The 15th Sustainment Brigade installed equally aggressive procedures for managing the MRF and degree code violations. These procedures required daily review and reporting. While much was done at the brigade, the success of the program should be credited to the collaborative effort between the RIC–GEO manager and the support operation officers within MND–B BSBs. While the aggressive procedures used to manage the MRF, the ORIL, and degree code violations certainly proved effective, it was apparent that collaboration and leader involvement were the keys to success. Regrettably, this success was less apparent in the performance standards of non-task-organized units within the supply support activity. This was especially challenging for the CSSBs operating within MND–B and MND–C.

The modernization of the Army’s supply system has empowered organizations by providing near-real-time data to leaders throughout the battlefield. Collaboration among different supply managers at all levels has increased the responsiveness of the supply system, but it has not eliminated the need to maintain practices used throughout history. The mountains of parts often referred to during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield in 1990 and 1991 have certainly been reduced in OIF, but the reliance on stocks positioned forward at brigade hubs has not. The role of the GSO within the sustainment brigade has increased, and the management tools available empower it to respond to, and even forecast, the requirements of the warfighter. These capabilities are magnified when used in concert with a collaborative environment.

Collaboration has become as critical to the logistician as “parallel planning” has to the tactician. Information technology, open communications, and healthy cooperation among logisticians have propelled collaboration to an entirely new level. Logistics has always set the operational limits on the battlefield. The collaborative efforts of multilevel logisticians, combined with information technology, have raised those operational limits and multiplied the responsiveness of the supply system.

Major Archie S. Herndon, Jr., is the General Supply Officer of the 15th Sustainment Brigade. He holds a B.S. degree in history from Eastern New Mexico University and an M.S. degree in logistics management from the Air Force Institute of Technology. He is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Officers Advanced Course, the Combined Arms and Services Staff School, and the Army Command and General Staff College.