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The Challenges and Risks of the ARFORGEN Process for a Sustainment Brigade

The Army Force Generation process is different for sustainment units and brigade combat teams
—a lesson the 43d Sustainment Brigade learned during its deployment to Afghanistan
and its return to Fort Carson.

On 9 March 2010, the 43d Sustainment Brigade departed its home station at Fort Carson, Colorado, to deploy to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Its mission was to provide logistics support for combat operations in Regional Commands South, Southwest, and West. What made this deployment stand out was that the brigade did not replace an existing unit. Its arrival resulted in the presence of two sustainment brigades in Afghanistan for the first time since U.S. military operations began there in 2001.

The 43d Sustainment Brigade's deployment was part of the uplift of forces in Afghanistan directed by President Obama in December 2009. Since it did not replace another unit, the 43d did not fall in on another unit's theater-provided equipment and thus had to start its operations from the ground up.

The only theater-provided equipment the 43d received was a small amount of computers and office supplies transferred from the 82d Sustainment Brigade. (Before the 43d Sustainment Brigade arrived, the 82d had been the sole sustainment brigade in the country, responsible for supporting all of Afghanistan). Knowing that there was not very much property to fall in on, the 43d had to anticipate all of its supply requirements before deploying, including items to construct its own expeditionary tactical operations center.

Roughly half of the units that were attached to the 82d Sustainment Brigade were reorganized to fall under the 43d Sustainment Brigade. A total of 31 subordinate units would fall under the mission command of the 43d at some point during its 12-month deployment. This placed an unprecedented amount of strain on the brigade staff to familiarize themselves with the Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) process for all of those units. ARFORGEN creates challenges and risks for sustainment brigades that are different from those faced by brigade combat teams (BCTs).

Deploying a Sustainment Brigade

One of the ARFORGEN risks is the continuous deployment and redeployment of subordinate units under the sustainment brigade that are at different points in the ARFORGEN cycle.

A significant difference between the deployment of a sustainment brigade and the deployment of a BCT is that when a sustainment brigade deploys, the battalions and companies that fall under it in garrison do not necessarily deploy with it. The only subordinate unit organic to a sustainment brigade that deploys with it is the special troops battalion's (STB's) headquarters and headquarters company (HHC).

It is possible for a logistics company to be attached in a deployed environment to its home-station sustainment brigade, but the two units likely will not deploy or redeploy together. A sustainment brigade commander may elect to leave the STB in the rear to carry out its garrison logistics responsibilities and provide mission command for the brigade's attached subordinate units that did not deploy with the brigade.

The way that a sustainment brigade deploys and redeploys has several advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that its attached subordinate units that have already been in theater can assist the new brigade headquarters in ongoing operations when it arrives. This can actually serve as a continuity multiplier for the incoming headquarters, which will benefit from the already established units.

The biggest disadvantage to deploying as a sus-tainment brigade is the great likelihood that the currently deployed array of subordinate units will not have trained together for the deployment. Since they will have come from a variety of continental United States locations and even overseas locations such as Germany, they probably will have all trained along different lines of effort.

The Army can take sustainment battalion headquarters and a large variety of companies from anywhere and organize them under the mission command of a sustainment brigade. It is not uncommon for Army National Guard and Army Reserve units to be placed under the mission command of an Active Army sustainment brigade, or vice versa.

Regardless of its Reserve component or Active Army status, when a new subordinate unit arrives in theater to fall under a sustainment brigade, its capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, and company leaders are all unknown. This can lead to variations in the relief in place/transfer of authority (RIP/TOA) process while the incoming unit learns all of the sustainment brigade's internal policies and procedures.

Deploying a BCT is a different situation. Under the Army's modular design, all combat battalions and the brigade support battalion (BSB) within a BCT deploy and move through the ARFORGEN process together as a single unit. When a BCT deploys, the entire brigade is brand new to the theater and a large portion of the existing knowledge the previous BCT had can be lost in the transition. Once the previous BCT redeploys back to its home station, the new BCT is forced to re-create or relearn many of the products and tasks that the previous BCT had already completed and that the new BCT may have missed during the RIP/TOA process.

Rear Detachment Responsibilities

While a sustainment brigade headquarters is deployed, its rear detachment is still accountable for many responsibilities. Even with the STB and sustainment brigade headquarters deployed, normal business operations will continue at the brigade's home station.

The sustainment brigade's rear detachment is re-sponsible for pushing its attached companies that are not deployed through the ARFORGEN process and preparing them for deployment. It also must provide logistics support to the installation and receive redeploying subordinate units, start their reset process, and begin to plan training.

The primary responsibilities of a BCT rear de-tachment are far less extensive. Its primary duties include receiving and preparing newly arriving Soldiers for deployment, ensuring that they receive theater-specific training, performing medical and administrative actions for Soldiers who have returned home from theater, and providing family readiness group support.

Reset and Individual Training

New ARFORGEN challenges awaited the 43d Sustainment Brigade after it completed its mission in Afghanistan and redeployed to Fort Carson. The amount of ARFORGEN risk associated with a sustainment brigade is at its highest level when the brigade returns home from a deployment and takes over operations from its rear detachment.

Immediately after a sustainment brigade assumes operational control after a deployment, it enters into the first phase of the ARFORGEN process, the reset/training phase. At this point, many of the experienced staff officers and noncommissioned officers will transition out of the sustainment brigade. The primary objectives for this phase are turning in equipment to reset and conducting individual training, such as physical fitness and weapons training. The first phase is considered complete when the unit receives all of its equipment back from reset, which should be in no more than 180 days.

The redeployed unit must also get back to Army individual training standards. Being away for a year and having to retrain is significant. It is not only a matter of getting back to individual standards but also of sending Soldiers to noncommissioned officer education system schools and getting selected Soldiers certified in various unit additional areas.

What makes the ARFORGEN process more difficult for a sustainment brigade is that the subordinate companies attached to the sustainment brigade will be at different points in the ARFORGEN process preparing for their own deployments. It is the brigade's responsibility to prepare and resource these units for their deployments and to reestablish all of their other predeployment systems and practices to meet ARFORGEN requirements. The brigade staff will undoubtedly be busy juggling the different phases of the ARFORGEN process for all of its downtrace units and managing reset for the brigade headquarters.

Ready Force and Collective Training

After completing the reset/training phase, the unit will enter into the second phase of the ARFORGEN cycle, the ready force phase. This phase consists of extensive collective training and is completed after the unit successfully concludes its culminating training event (CTE). If the unit properly planned individual training during the reset/training phase, its foresight will pay off during the CTE and any other collective training events.

Scheduling internal collective training poses a significant challenge for the sustainment brigade because of the same ARFORGEN cycle disparity between units mentioned earlier. If the brigade schedules a field training exercise, a unit may be unable to attend because it is going through reset or taking block leave before it deploys. With a portion of the companies under the 43d constantly deployed or unable to attend a training event because of their ARFORGEN cycles, the brigade's support capabilities potentially will be different for each training event.

Like most Army sustainment brigades, the 43d is the senior logistics unit at its home station and is responsible for providing logistics support to all tenant units when it is not deployed. The sustainment brigade might at times be unable to provide transportation assets or fuel support because the units that furnish those capabilities are deployed or in reset. This will force the modular BCTs to look internally in some areas to meet their logistics training requirements.

Sustainment brigades are in a constant state of training support, and BCTs rely heavily on them throughout the Army to support the logistics needs of their training requirements. This symbiotic relationship between the BCTs and the sustainment brigade also benefits the 43d because supporting the BSBs and maneuver battalions at Fort Carson provides great training opportunities for the sustainment brigade's staff and attached units.

The final portion of the ready force phase is the execution and successful completion of the CTE. When a BCT enters into its CTE at the National Training Center or the Joint Readiness Training Center, the entire BCT normally goes together. In a sustainment brigade, the units are forced to "fight to train" based on the unit commander's guidance and intent.

As noted, all of the subordinate units in a sustainment brigade are at different phases of the ARFORGEN process and at different phases in the training process. If a battalion or company within a sustainment brigade needs a CTE, it must coordinate with a BCT for space in the BCT's rotation. This predeployment capstone training exercise is vital to mission success. The training value it provides is irreplaceable because it allows the commander to evaluate the competence and capability of his unit before deploying.

Even though the company or battalion headquarters will not necessarily be deploying with the same unit it trains with, a CTE will still provide essential collective training for the company and allow the commander to see his unit's strengths and weaknesses. The main risk for a sustainment unit seeking a CTE is that the unit will rely completely on the BCT to allow it to attend the training. However, the BCT is not required to allow a sustainment unit the opportunity to train with it during its rotation.

A large amount of coordination between the two brigades is needed before executing the training in such areas as determining equipment available on the rotational draw grid, arranging for billeting and transportation, defining the support unit's role while executing the training, and integrating the sustainment brigade into the overall concept of the operation for the BCT. This is even more difficult to coordinate when the two units are not at the same installation. Smart sustainment units "sell" the benefits of training with a sustainment brigade to the BCT that is the centerpiece of the training rotation.

Available Force Phase

The third and final phase of the ARFORGEN process before deployment is the available force phase. Upon reaching this phase, the unit is considered trained, equipped, and available for deployment. If the unit has been slated for a deployment, it will normally receive its deployment orders just before entering this phase.

During the available force phase, the unit prepares its equipment for movement, purchases and packs supplies, splits its property book, and allows its Soldiers to take block leave before deploying. Whether the unit is a single company or the sustainment brigade headquarters, it will deploy by itself and not as part of a larger organization, as a company within a BCT would do.

The unit will arrive in theater and fall in under a different chain of command. Upon arrival, it is possible that the deploying unit and its already deployed headquarters will know little about each other. A well- functioning and effective force integration process, led from the already deployed unit's headquarters, can eliminate this lack of knowledge and the communication gaps one might expect.

The purpose behind the Army's implementation of the ARFORGEN process is to provide predictability and stability to Soldiers during a time of extremely high operating tempo in an era of persistent conflict and continuous deployments. In addition to ensuring that the Army has units prepared to deploy in support of operations all over the world, the ARFORGEN process also provides some measure of predictability to the Soldiers who make up those units.

Soldiers can familiarize themselves with the AR-FORGEN model to gain a better understanding of what training they can expect to perform during each phase and when their unit is available for deployment. It is important for Soldiers to understand and appreciate the differences in the overall ARFORGEN process between BCTs and sustainment brigades. Knowing these differences can help sustainment brigades through the process as they prepare to deploy and, in doing so, leave their traditional task organization at home station and become part of another organization in a deployed environment.

Captain Thomas A. Knothe is the commander of the Forward Support Company, 4th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade, at Fort Carson, Colorado. He previously served as the support operations plans officer for the 43d Sustainment Brigade. He holds a B.S. degree in economics from Auburn University and is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course and the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course.

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