More Tooth, Less Tail: Contractors in Bosnia

by Colonel Herman T. Palmer

The Army's experience in Bosnia offers a preview of how important contractors will be in future deployments.

On 18 September 1997, elements of the U.S. Army comprising Task Force Eagle were directed by the commander of NATO's Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina to seize and maintain control of the transmission tower on Mount Zep, in the Multinational Division (North) sector of Bosnia. The tower was part of a media network that transmitted continuous, inflammatory anti-SFOR messages to the public. Because it served as a powerful means of inciting the Bosnian people in contravention of the General Framework Agreement for Peace (the Dayton Accords), the tower had to be silenced until it ceased hostile broadcasts.

The U.S. soldiers, after careful planning and swift execution, took the hilltop tower without resistance and immediately began securing it. Within 30 minutes after the last infantryman dismounted his vehicle and took up a hasty defensive position, an M1074 palletized loading system (PLS), bearing a contingency package of sandbags, plywood, barbed wire, and pickets, roared to a stop on the hilltop. The troops were surprised at its arrival, and even more surprised when a civilian jumped from the vehicle and began preparing to drop its cargo.

The truck was there with needed supplies almost before the soldiers realized that supplies were needed. Logistics planners working behind the scenes had anticipated requirements, identified sources of supply, and determined means of delivery. Plans already had been laid for contractor-supported living quarters, showers, latrines, and, most importantly, hot food for deserving soldiers. Within weeks, Mount Zep was transformed into a small American base camp, with most of the amenities found at other base camps in the U.S. sector of Bosnia. That first civilian, operating Army equipment and following the combat elements by no more than half an hour, exemplified the successes the Army experienced with contractors as a force multiplier in its peace enforcement operations in Bosnia.

Contractor Support in a Mature Theater

When elements of the 1st Armored Division first crossed the Sava River from Croatia into Bosnia as part of the U.S. contribution to Operation Joint Endeavor, Task Force Eagle looked much different than it did nearly 2 years later, when elements of the same division occupied Mount Zep. Initially, the division deployed with nearly its entire division support command. The whole division was trained, organized, equipped, and fully prepared to enter the controversial Balkan operational environment. Indeed, a gunfight was expected—and U.S. Army elements were ready to deal with any belligerents with decisive force. At that time, there was little concern with logistics support provided by contractors on this potentially high-intensity-conflict battlefield. Contractors were relegated to safe havens in Hungary and Croatia, where they set about serving hot meals to transient soldiers and providing other services vital to the well-being of an Army in transit.

Contractors capably augmented Army transportation elements with vehicles such as this civilian truck, which was modified to accept a flatrack from a palletized loading system.
Contractors capably augmented Army transportation elements with vehicles such as this civilian truck, which was modified to accept a flatrack from a palletized loading system.

The theater matured slowly through Operations Joint Endeavor, Joint Guard, and, most recently, Joint Forge. As this occurred, political and military decisions were made that permitted the Army to reduce its footprint in the Balkans and, by necessity, the size of its combat service support (CSS) force. While these reductions in the force structure were planned, functions that potentially could be performed by civilian contractors were identified and studied for transfer.

However, reductions in committed troops were not the only reason that led U.S. planners to consider expanding the support provided by civilian contractors. As the theater matured and freedom of movement over the inland lines of communication increased, the number of serious incidents declined and signs of lawlessness became less visible. As it became clear that contractors could operate in what had been a war-torn country in a generally safe and effective manner, with minimal need for soldiers to provide force protection, their expanded use became more plausible.

Multifaceted Contractor Support

For soldiers familiar with the Bosnian area of operations, the name "Brown & Root Services Corporation" (BRSC) became synonymous with "contractor support." Elements from BRSC operated dining facilities at numerous U.S. base camps and provided much-needed bulk potable water, laundry service, bulk class III (petroleum, oils, and lubricants) storage, and limited support in other areas from late 1995 to 1998.

As the United States prepared to enter Operation Joint Forge with a reduced force structure, BRSC was solicited to expand its services into other, less traditional areas of support. The Task Force Support Command had been "rounded out" since October 1997 with a reserve component truck company equipped with PLS's from Army war reserve stocks in Germany. A cost analysis determined that it could be cheaper to replace the transportation and distribution support provided by that truck company with contractor assets. After considerable review, funding was secured, and the entire mission of the truck company was absorbed into the BRSC contract. U.S. civilian drivers hired by BRSC assumed the transportation and distribution functions throughout the U.S. sector.

BRSC also performed other functions at the request of the Army. Nearly 2 full years after it deployed, Task Force Eagle sought ways of replacing low-density water purification specialists so they could return to their home stations and rejoin their parent organizations. BRSC again seemed like the best alternative, so it was solicited to provide trained operators and maintenance specialists; these personnel would supply soldiers with clean water using water purification units provided by the Army. BRSC began operating the Army's only remaining water purification point in Bosnia late in May 1998.

This movement toward greater contractor support permitted the number of deployed CSS soldiers to be reduced and allowed the operational commander greater latitude in designing his force. Indeed, the combination of increasing levels of contractor support and smaller numbers of "green suit" logisticians produced a lot more "tooth" and less "tail" than would have been possible otherwise.

More Than One Contractor

Soldiers who deployed to the Balkans as part of Task Force Eagle will always remember the seemingly omnipresent BRSC. But BRSC was by no means the only contractor present throughout this period. Other contractors, such as Lockheed-Martin and United Defense, provided valuable maintenance support for ground vehicles. Others, such as Raytheon and Bell, supported critical aviation assets. Still others, such as AT&T and Sprint, provided valuable support for communications systems. The intelligence community relied upon contractors such as Mantech and GTE for reliable sustainment support of their systems. The majority of interpreters used in Task Force Eagle were employees of BDM International, Inc.

A Croatian contractor, INA, ultimately received the mission of delivering fuel directly to three major U.S. base camps, which reduced the requirement for soldiers with tactical fuel tankers. This service was further expanded to include direct delivery of fuel to U.S.-run aviation and tank-and-artillery ranges at locations more than an 8-hour drive from other U.S. base camps.

Another Croatian contractor, ESKO, delivered class A rations directly to dining facilities at U.S. base camps. Bread and doughnuts were obtained from local contract bakers. All in all, there were no less than 52 separate contractors providing support in one form or another to U.S. forces at the time of transition from Operation Joint Guard to Operation Joint Forge.

Of particular significance was the major role contractor personnel played in the major base camp upgrades undertaken during the summer and fall of 1998. A comprehensive, aggressive program to get soldiers out of canvas tents and into sturdier facilities was combined with an initiative to close base camps and consolidate forces at centrally located, operationally important sites. The available construction work force of BRSC, with its special skills, was combined with Army corps and divisional engineers and elements from a Naval mobile construction battalion ("Seabees"). This unique blend of vertical and horizontal construction capabilities allowed Task Force Eagle to undertake more than 100 complex construction projects that would have required many more military personnel if attempted by military engineers alone.

A soldier clears a living area at Comanche Base in August 1998. The contractor role in such construction projects increased as the theater infrastructure matured.  

A soldier clears a living area at Comanche Base in August 1998. The contractor role in such construction projects increased as the theater infrastructure matured.

Advantages of Contractor Logistics Support

Some of the advantages of contractor support are clearly evident. Soldiers who otherwise would be engaged in performing important support missions can be freed immediately for redeployment or for assignment to other missions at other locations. Often, using civilian contractors can be less expensive in the long run than using soldiers, especially when the training and deployment costs of soldiers are considered. Civilian contractors can be used to provide support capabilities that are in short supply in the active and reserve components, thus reducing the frequency and duration of deployments for soldiers with low-density, high-demand technical skills.

Several studies were conducted to quantify and qualify the capabilities that civilian contractors brought to Task Force Eagle, in terms of the numbers of soldiers displaced through the use of contractor logistics support. One such study concluded that, to replace BRSC alone (not considering any other contractors), the Army would have needed approximately the equivalent of a reinforced corps support group and two engineer battalions capable of vertical and horizontal construction. Each deployed soldier, of course, requires food, water, living accommodations, medical support, postal service, and all the other "support" services that soldiers deserve and have come to expect. So support soldiers themselves become consumers of resources and generate additional requirements for even more support soldiers.

Other advantages of using contractors in peace enforcement operations are not quite so evident to the soldiers being supported. When local civilians are hired, contractor support becomes a vehicle for putting hard-pressed local nationals back to work in a depressed economy. Vital skills, perhaps missing for a generation, can be taught to young people and thus infused into a suffering society. Finally, the goods and services procured by the Army from contractors can have a positive effect on rejuvenating a country's domestic production and transportation infrastructure. The use of contract labor in support of the peace enforcement mission in Bosnia had a definite economic impact on the region secured by U.S. forces and supported a basic pillar in the commanding general's strategic campaign plan.

In addition to the socioeconomic benefits for the local population, contractor support often can be faster, cheaper, and more efficient than using "green suit" assets. In the case of the reserve component truck company, distribution operations provided by a contractor using Government-furnished equipment proved to be considerably less expensive when the deployment and redeployment costs for the reserve component replacement unit were taken into consideration. In terms of efficiency and expense, local national contractors (who are generally responsible for their own life support) are considerably less expensive than their U.S. soldier counterparts. Additionally, civilian contractors do not require the same levels of mail support, off-the-job medical care, and other support afforded to their soldier, sailor, airman, and marine counterparts.

On the Down Side

Civilian contractors, regardless of their utility, are not totally interchangeable with their well-trained military counterparts. Contractors do not travel with their own gun trucks. In times of heightened force-protection levels, for example, contractors servicing base camps and traveling daily distribution routes required armed military escorts throughout the divisional area. Allotting soldiers to these force-protection missions required a significant amount of staff coordination and synchronization time and the dedication of nearly two infantry companies on a daily basis.

Of particular relevance to the mission in Bosnia was the sensitivity of using local national employees of one ethnic background in territory inhabited by members of another ethnic group. Care routinely was exercised to avoid exposing any members of the three formerly warring factions (Serbs, Bosnians, and Croats) to unnecessary danger in the ethnically divided divisional area of operations. Conversely, both Serbs and Bosnians demonstrated that they were fully capable of working with each other on at least one U.S. base camp, where they jointly performed service and maintenance functions under their U.S.-based employer.

This forklift operator was one of the contractor personnel helping soldiers at the division's supply support activity at Eagle Base in Bosnia. This forklift operator was one of the contractor personnel helping soldiers at the division's supply support activity at Eagle Base in Bosnia.

Using Contractors in the Future

As any theater matures, decisions that facilitate the introduction of contractor logistics support must be made early. Matrices should be built early when designing the concept of support for contingency-based peace enforcement missions. These matrices should answer such questions as: When is it safe to introduce contractor support? When will the requirements of the supported unit commander exceed organic CSS capabilities and require augmentation from contractor logistics support? When will the sociopolitical climate allow the introduction of contractors? How can the "triggers" be identified that will lead to a recommendation to introduce contractor support? On what evidence will these recommendations be based? What is the collection plan for this evidence so that solid recommendations can be made? When should organic CSS assets be redeployed after civilian contractors displace them? Clearly, every operation in every theater will be different. The opportunities for economies of scale to be gained by contracting some CSS functions will differ, as will the skills and competence that various contractors can bring to the operation.

Every soldier-logistician knows that contractors will be present to some degree on every future battlefield. As areas of operation become more mature and increasingly stable, opportunities to transfer functions to contractors increase. However, the capabilities and limitations of possible contractor support must be understood, as well as how to protect these vulnerable assets in all conditions. Only by refining existing doctrine and exposing soldier-logisticians to that doctrine early in the officer and noncommissioned officer education processes can they fully understand the unique contributions that can be made by judiciously using contractors in some functional areas. In general, the pervasive use of civilian contractors in contingency operations has not been reflected in revisions of Army logistics doctrine or in the Army education system.

The logistics support provided by a diverse set of contractors was a significant combat multiplier for the operational commander on the ground in Bosnia. The use of dozens of different U.S. and local contractors in a wide variety of functional areas undeniably provided more "tooth" and less "tail" in a difficult and often dangerous environment. The Task Force Eagle use of contractor logistics support will serve as a model for study by soldier-logisticians far into the future. ALOG

Colonel Herman T. (Tom) Palmer is the Chief of the Maintenance Division, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, U.S. Army, Europe. He was the G4 for Task Force Eagle, 1st Armored Division (Forward), and Multinational Division (North) when this article was written. He holds an M.A. degree in management and administration from Central Michigan University and is a graduate of the Army War College.