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Transforming While Preparing to Deploy

Commanders today face a myriad of new challenges. Deployments, relocations, redesignations, modularity, redeployments, transitions, stop losses, stop movements, base closures, and many other factors combine to make commanding more difficult. This article provides some insight to current and future commanders on ways to meet and overcome these challenges.

Relocation and Transformation

On 15 July 2007, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment (HHD), 191st Ordnance Battalion, was redesignated as Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), 391st Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB), and relocated from Miesau to Bamberg, Germany.

Before this relocation and redesignation, the 191st Ordnance Battalion provided command and control for 7 company-sized elements with more than 1,200 Soldiers and civilians. As part of the transformation in Europe, six of the companies were relinquished to other battalions just before the move to Bamberg. In Bamberg, the newly designated 391st CSSB assumed control of 2 additional companies, making its authorized strength 500 personnel.

When the CSSB received word of its pending deployment to Iraq, it decided that only the HHC would participate in the planning process. The HHC faced the challenges of transforming the unit into a CSSB, filling personnel shortages, assuming the logistics support mission in Bamberg and Schweinfurt, preparing a road-to-war training plan, and integrating into the newly transformed 16th Sustainment Brigade—all within the span of a month.

These events were like a rollercoaster ride for the unit’s leaders, Soldiers, and family members. The HHC commander’s initial focus revolved around the relocation and transformation order that the unit received within days of his assuming command. The unit was required to move 355 kilometers after 17 years in the region. The seven company-sized elements remained under the control of the HHD until 2 months before the move to Bamberg.

The command team sent all of the barracks personnel ahead to Bamberg with the first sergeant to receive equipment and personnel. This created a virtually seamless transition and enabled the staff to complete all tasks necessary for relinquishing command and control of the units in Rhineland-Pfalz. The reassignment of personnel to other units hindered the HHD’s ability to relocate and transform because it caused the unit to lack the manpower necessary for clean up, excess equipment turn-in, command and control, equipment and barracks pack out, and sensitive items movement.

The CSSB staff faced its own problems. It continued to provide command and control for units conducting transformation, relocation, and reassignment at Miesau Army Depot and Rhine Ordnance Barracks while it established a forward staff element to prepare for the HHC’s arrival. Although it was authorized 52 personnel, the HHC’s strength was 26. This shortage resulted in incredibly tight timelines for moving personnel and equipment out of Miesau and receiving it all in Bamberg. The new sustainment brigade added another degree of external pressure because it was a newly transformed unit that was still hashing out reporting requirements and processes.

Family Needs and Services

Relocation and transformation difficulties, which were compounded by moving within a foreign country, affected families. The family readiness group helped families deal with being uprooted, Exceptional Family Member Program issues, limited housing availability, financial challenges, Department of Defense Dependent Schools concerns, and early return of dependents. Unique circumstances and short notices while integrating into a new community complicated normal family routines.

Town hall and family readiness group meetings in Miesau and Bamberg provided the families with the opportunity to air concerns, ask questions, and dispel countless rumors. Operational security was paramount. Leaders were instructed not to release any information until it had been vetted through the appropriate authorities and officially released by the public affairs office. Subject-matter experts from Army Community Services spoke with families about finances, entitlements, Tricare, and Army Emergency Relief in order to provide Soldiers and dependents the support needed to alleviate the stress caused by relocating. Soldiers were given 30 days to focus on moving equipment, personnel, and families.

Several families faced financial challenges and limited housing availability during the move to the Bamberg area. The leaders closely monitored this development and continued to work with housing, finance, garrison, and Army Emergency Relief to ensure that all Soldiers and their families were properly supported.

Predeployment Training

The first order of business was to increase efforts to bring the unit back to its authorized strength. Personnel were pulled from other organizations, and inbound Soldiers were notified to arrive early if possible.

Predeployment training came with an entirely new set of hurdles for the HHC leaders. The restrictive movement window created a training challenge that was exacerbated by the property book split and left-behind equipment (LBE) turn-in. Predeployment training was the highest priority. However, command and control and mission requirements continued to disrupt training right up until the certification exercise. The December holiday season brought its own pressures between fulfilling all mandatory pre-deployment training criteria and standing up a rear detachment. The training conducted and completed in the last 40 days before deployment made the hand receipt splits between the rear detachment and HHC-forward particularly difficult. The recently revised LBE program lengthened the normal property split process and demanded more manpower.

Concurrently, the HHC received and integrated new combat service support automation management office (CSSAMO) equipment and multiple Army Battle Command Systems during the last 60 days before deployment, requiring the HHC to schedule even more training. The HHC Soldiers either attended training in Germany or the United States or received on-the-job training provided by the program managers during the certification exercise. This flexibility helped ease the considerable responsibilities involved in deploying a CSSB HHC. Soldiers arrived as late as 2 weeks before deployment. Equipment (specifically for CSSAMO) continued to come in until 4 days before deployment; these late equipment fills barely met the European theater transportation deadlines. A solid training plan with flexibility ensured the command team would meet each requirement despite last-minute changes, mandatory schools, and holidays along the way.

Although numerous video teleconferences (VTCs) were conducted with the CSSB’s sister battalion downrange, it was obvious that the unit’s saving grace would be the vast experience Soldiers were bringing with them. One major resource for all enlisted issues was the battalion command sergeant major. He conducted interviews and became personally involved in choosing individuals, especially the junior enlisted, from subordinate companies to fill slots. When the unit departed Germany, 44 of the 77 Soldiers had previous deployment experience.

Deployment

The command team was prepared to provide administrative and life support for the battalion staff but did not realize the true scope of the unit’s additional responsibilities. Deployed command team relationships immediately changed the company dynamics and capability when the CSSBs arrived in theater. On arrival in theater, the command team assumed administrative control of 156 additional Soldiers and the equipment needed to conduct a variety of missions, including test, measurement, and diagnosis, tactical water distribution, vehicle recovery, cargo transfer, mortuary affairs, and finance.

Predeployment site surveys were unauthorized at company or battalion level, so the company had to maximize use of VTCs, telephones, and email. It would have been beneficial for the HHC if the activities for which they would be providing administrative control had been present with their CSSBs at the various VTCs. However, all planning was conducted solely with the parent units, which left the HHC open to possible mission degradation because of equipment shortages not identified and filled as theater-provided equipment or minimal unit organizational property. The HHC deployed with 77 Soldiers, and it ended up with 232 Soldiers after the transfer of authority and memorandums of agreement were in place. The HHC provided adequately for this 205-percent increase in personnel using theater-provided equipment and additional home-station equipment. Motor pool activities were quadrupled overnight with the additional 156 wheeled and tracked vehicles, placing considerable strain on a motor pool that normally serviced and maintained 24 vehicles.

During the initial assessment, the company noted that most of the computer and vehicle shortages were at satellite sites. Most of the computer shortages were readily filled with the additional equipment HHC had brought into theater; however, the use of its additional equipment left the HHC without replacement options during the later stages of the deployment. Authorized vehicles from home station could not have covered vehicle shortages since the home-station vehicles were not up-armored.

Rear Detachment Support

The command team and the family readiness group leader dealt with a variety of family concerns for the deployment over a 7-month period. The inability to get approval for early return of dependents created a challenge for the rear detachment and family readiness group leader, with only one of five early return of dependent requests approved before the unit deployed. The family readiness group was validated on the first day of deployment when one Soldier received a Red Cross message in Kuwait. The family readiness group stepped in to assist the Soldier’s family with childcare, transportation, and care baskets in a seamless transition between the rear detachment and deployed leadership.

Normally, a company commander is faced with two challenges (deployment and redeployment) during his time in command. Relocation, transformation, predeployment training, and deployment pose four distinct, unique challenges. With today’s hurried operating tempo, company commanders need to be aware of and use all resources available. Communication is key, and an updated training plan, which is reviewed daily, ensures training is conducted correctly and no opportunities are wasted. Sending competent individuals to handle situations and empowering them to make on-the-spot decisions is a must. Preparation and flexibility allow the command team to overcome all obstacles, which continue to arise during predeployment training and initial entry into theater. Commanders must provide the direction, motivation, and resources to enable and honor their daily sacrifices.

Major James J. Geishaker is the logistics operations officer for the 16th Sustainment Brigade Support Operations Office. He was the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 391st Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 16th Sustainment Brigade, during its deployment to Iraq when he wrote this article. He holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations from the United States Military Academy and is a graduate of the Transportation Officer Basic Course and Combined Logistics Captains Career Course.

 
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