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Redesigned Personnel Service Support in the Field

Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) 07–09 ushers in the true test of the Army’s personnel services delivery redesign (PSDR) on a theater-wide scale. For the first time since the inception of PSDR, all deployed brigade headquarters will have the organic essential personnel service (EPS) capabilities that previously resided in the personnel services battalions (PSBs) of the legacy divisions.

PSDR is the Army human resources community’s component of Army transformation. Under the redesign, the core of personnel service support (PSS) is moving to brigade and battalion S–1 sections. [Under PSDR, “PSS” will be referred to as “EPS.” “PSS” is used for legacy units like the 15th PSB.] This new structure—creating brigade S–1s that are as adaptive and self-sufficient as the brigades they are charged to support—sounds good in briefings, and the Army has manned and equipped brigades to succeed in their PSS mission. Yet, while the PSDR machine is already in motion, the question remains: How do we train our S–1 Soldiers to execute this new concept?

The 15th PSB of the 15th Sustainment Brigade is responsible for performing the newest function (“manning”) of the Army’s new sustainment brigade formation. It is also one of two remaining legacy PSBs deployed to the Iraqi theater of operations. So the 15th PSB has a unique operational perspective on how brigades that are now transforming under PSDR can develop strategies for successfully providing EPS while deployed in a theater, even though they lack the safety net of area support personnel detachments and the benefit of years of lessons learned.

The 15th PSB is, in effect, acting as the “training wheels” for PSDR, providing both a fall-back organization for performing PSS and subject matter expertise for the newly developed human resources operations cells of the sustainment brigade’s support operations (SPO) sections. The 15th PSB thus allows brigade combat teams (BCTs) to tackle these tough challenges posed by a new human resources configuration: the systems and equipment are technical, Active and Reserve component Soldiers are integrated as never before, and the distances between supporters and supported populations make the execution of EPS difficult.

In spite of these challenges, the 15th PSB determined four advance planning training factors, gained from hard lessons learned and victories won, that make supporting the force more efficient in the Iraqi theater of operations. Here is our guide to success.

Develop Reserve Component Experts

The best thing that could have happened to the 15th PSB’s deployed task organization was the incorporation of U.S. Army Reserve (USAR) personnel units into our formation. Detachment 4, 847th PSB, and Detachment 5, 376th PSB, provided a wealth of USAR technical expertise that we were able to use across the battalion, especially in the areas of PSS and personnel accountability.

Active component units with brigade S–1s that have undergone PSDR likely will not be so fortunate as to have resident USAR or Army National Guard (ARNG) subject matter experts (though a number of BCT S–1s will be responsible for ensuring that ARNG and USAR units that fall under their deployed task organizations receive the same level of EPS as Active Army units). The key to ensuring success in supporting ARNG and USAR units is learning how to support ARNG and USAR Soldiers before deployment and understanding how ARNG and USAR promotions, evaluations, and other personnel actions differ from Active Army EPS. Brigade S–1s also must gain access to, and understand how to operate, the Regional Level Application Software (RLAS) and the Reserve Component Automation System (RCAS), which are the ARNG and USAR equivalents of the Electronic Military Personnel Office (eMILPO).

The 15th PSB’s personnel service centers used RLAS as the primary database for providing PSS to ARNG and USAR Soldiers on an area support basis. RLAS is a software application developed to provide the USAR with a client-server, Web-enabled application for managing personnel and resources. RLAS contains four modules: personnel, training, finance, and RLAS support. RLAS interfaces with the Standard Army Financial System for processing financial data, the Training Assessment Module for processing training data, the Defense Joint Military System for processing pay transactions, and the Retirement Points Accounting System for tracking retirement points. Information contained in the databases of the USAR’s 14 regional support commands is transferred electronically to the U.S. Army Reserve Command, then sent on to external systems. The RLAS personnel module is the only module required to assist in updating records in a deployed theater and, like other Army personnel management databases, requires several weeks to process user account requests.

RLAS does have intheater connectivity issues, which the 15th PSB worked to help resolve. RLAS routinely fails to connect through Citrix Web and Virtual Private Networking avenues from Iraq. The “workaround” solution in place at this time is that all RLAS updates are requested through the 3d Personnel Command in Kuwait, which has no difficulty bridging back to the continental United States (CONUS). A theater point of contact for RLAS is available by calling DSN 318–430–6065 or sending an email message to theaterepd@arifjian.arcent.army.mil.

Conduct Realistic PSS and Soldier Skills Training

Combat training centers (CTCs) and field training exercises (FTXs) are notoriously ineffective at evaluating PSS systems. The brigade S–1 is responsible for ensuring that his section is trained to support the force as it will fight in a forward-deployed environment. Although CTC rotations may provide dedicated time to exercise critical systems, BCT S–1s must develop a separate validation method to ensure that the S–1 team is ready to support.

The biggest hurdle for training PSS Soldiers is the competing requirements of training for war while continuing to support the force. The 15th PSB developed two methods to accomplish both missions, with no degradation in quality of service. First, we decentralized PSS by pushing traditional PSB-level functions down as close to the supported unit as possible (which is a fundamental tenant of PSDR). Second, we rotated the remaining PSS missions that could not be accomplished at the BCT level among the remaining PSB Soldiers (we called this “PSS Time”) while providing predictable blocks of time for personnel detachment commanders to focus on training Soldier skills (we called this “Prime Time Training”).

As the 15th PSB prepared for deployment in support of OIF 06–08, we frontloaded forward area support teams (FASTs) to organic 1st Cavalry Division brigades located in our deployed area of responsibility. The BCTs integrated, trained, and validated the FASTs, with technical oversight provided by the PSB, over a 3-month period in the following phases—

  • Phase I. Access to and proficiency in operating personnel systems, including eMILPO, RLAS, the Enlisted Distribution and Assignment System, and the Total Officer Personnel Management Information System.
  • Phase II. Testing of supervisory knowledge and technical skills.
  • Phase III. Sustained ability to successfully perform all PSB-level functions while physically located at the brigade S­1.
  • Phase IV. CTC validation (in conjunction with brigade rotations to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, or the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana).
  • Phase V. Brigade S­1 feedback and outbrief.

We ensured that the Soldiers who remained within the PSB’s deployed formation met and exceeded the standard for competence in all Army Forces Command- and division-mandated predeployment tasks. In the 6 months of ramping up for deployment, we conducted detachment-level training exercises, culminating in a battalion-level FTX and convoy live-fire exercise, both focusing on deployed Soldier skills. Detachments rotated responsibility for remaining PSS missions with “prime time training” in blocks of 30 days; this meant that the remaining personnel detachments had 60 dedicated days of Soldier skills training over a 90-day period. Both PSS and deployed Soldier skills training were successes, with tough, realistic, scenario-driven external evaluations executed by both senior PSS noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and combat arms experts drawn from units within our garrison’s supported population.

The net result was a forward-deployed force that could operate as both FASTs embedded with legacy maneuver brigades and PSB Soldiers operating on an area support basis. This force was trained, ready, and combat-tested in react-to-contact battle drills ranging from indirect fire to unexploded ordnance.

Emphasize CAC and ID Tag Machine Training

Few S–1s have operated in a deployed theater under PSDR. Few S–1s have executed the mission of producing common access cards (CACs) or identification (ID) tags while forward deployed. Success in this mission, again, lies in system access and technical proficiency. Beyond systems access and training, however, are a host of issues unique to the deployed theater. Here are some issues affecting CACs and ID tags and sources of assistance.

CACs. The Defense Enrollment Eligibility System (DEERS) goes down periodically throughout the day because of server outages at the local, theater, and CONUS levels. The causes and estimated down-times vary and often are unpredictable. For CONUS-based connectivity issues, users should contact the DEERS/RAPIDS [Real-time Automated Personnel Identification System] Assistance Center at 1–800–3RAPIDS (800–372–7437) or at DSN 312–698–5000.

CAC printers occasionally malfunction and produce defective cards in which the photo or information is misaligned. For printer-related issues, contact the DEERS/RAPIDS Assistance Center at 1–800–3RAPIDS (800–372–7437) or at DSN: 312–698–5000. Personnel issuing CACs sometimes are not fully trained on the methods for correcting individual records that have discrepancies. The Defense Manpower Data Center Support Office conducts DEERS record research when discrepancies are found in a service member’s DEERS record. The main switchboard number at the office for assistance is 831–583–2500 or DSN 878–3261,–2659, or –3335.

Most Department of Defense (DOD) contractors and civilians receive their CAC support on an area support basis. Information on policy-related questions on CAC service to DOD contractors and civilians is available from the theater civilian personnel advisor at DSN 318–822–4908.

ID tags. Though manual ID machines are authorized on unit modification tables of organization and equipment, automated machines provide a more reliable and efficient means of producing ID tags. The good news is that many BCTs fall in on automated ID tag machines that were purchased in country and will remain as theater-provided equipment. Manual machines, if properly maintained and serviced,
continue to be the best means of servicing outlying locations, where moving or maintaining an automated ID tag machine is not feasible. Manual machines should be used to supplement automated machines.

S–1 personnel should have user’s manuals for automated machines; most service issues can be resolved at the unit level as outlined in the manuals. The most common issues that cannot be resolved by the user are broken keyboard port connections and misalignment of the mechanical drum.

The manufacturer for most manual and automated ID tag machines in the Army inventory is Card Imaging Master (CIM). For maintenance issues related to CIM ID tag machines, users should contact the Technical Division Manager at 1–305–639–3040 (extension 308) or CIM USA Inc. by calling 1–305–639–3040 or fax 1–305–639–3060.

Train and Resource for Decentralized EPS

One of the unforeseen challenges of fielding redesigned BCT S–1s in a forward theater of operations was how to provide EPS to task-organized outlying units at and below the company level. PSDR provides for manning and equipping brigade and battalion S–1s, but it does not provide for servicing the outlying company or detachment located at a patrol base or strong point. Most of this problem is supposed to be mitigated—in theory—by the Internet, using digital senders and email as means of transmitting evaluations, promotions, and actions between geographically dispersed units and their supporting S–1s.

However, several problems undercut this solution. Connectivity was unreliable, scanners and digital senders broke down, Soldiers conducting patrols day in and day out did not rank providing their own PSS as a priority, and certain elements of PSS, including CAC production and CAC personal identification number (PIN) resets, required a Soldier to be physically present to perform the service. Decentralizing support was the most viable solution. Conducting regular PSS “rodeos” (as the 1st Cavalry Division calls them) to outlying units brings PSS to the Soldier, without taking the Soldier away from the fight.

The 15th PSB, as a part of the 1st Cavalry Division, employed the rodeo concept during OIF 2 as a method of bringing postal support to units that were located away from Army post offices. Soldiers convoyed by ground and air from their locations at forward operating bases (FOBs) to locations where Soldiers needed support, bringing all of the equipment needed to conduct outbound postal parcel operations, and provided service for periods that usually lasted no longer than 24 hours. These rodeos continued through OIF 05–07.

When the 15th PSB deployed in support of OIF 06–08, we incorporated PSS into the services provided to units located outside the scope of our area support PSS centers. These services included CAC and ID tag production; CAC PIN resets; Department of Defense Form 93, Record of Emergency Data, and Servicemen’s Group Life Insurance (SGLV) updates; and promotions assistance. During most rodeos, we partnered with finance agencies in order to conduct cash disbursements, pay inquiries, and allotment changes. Teams of four PSS Soldiers traveled with two Tuff bins, including a complete, deployable CAC system, two laptop computers, a printer, and associated supplies. These missions enhanced PSS to Soldiers in a geographically dispersed area of operations, reduced the need for Soldiers to “get on the road” (and possibly face combat operations) in order to conduct routine PSS, resulted in faster processing of personnel actions, and increased overall operational effectiveness.

Has the Army trained our functional area 43 (human resource management) majors or branch-detailed officers or junior Adjutant General’s Corps captains how to lead the charge to make PSDR work on the battlefield, in spite of not fully mission capable equipment, sporadic Internet connectivity, and geographic dispersion? Probably not, but, in all fairness, the Army has had a lot going on lately. Experience, lessons learned, and thinking outside of doctrine will train us to make PSDR work. Whether or not the Army’s human resources community passes this test depends largely on the brigade S–1 and on the S–1’s ability to support more Soldiers more effectively and across more areas of operations.

Captain Jean Anne P. Deakyne is the Battalion S–3 of the 15th Personnel Services Battalion (PSB), 15th Sustainment Brigade. She commanded a detachment of the 15th PSB and served as a brigade S–1 in the 1st Cavalry Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom 2. She holds a B.A. degree in political science from the University of Texas at Arlington and is a graduate of the Adjutant General Officer Basic Course, the Adjutant General Captains Career Course, and the Combined Arms and Services Staff School.